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THE WIDOWER'S TALE by Julia Glass Kirkus Star


by Julia Glass

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-37792-0
Publisher: Pantheon

Another heartwarming winner from the NBA-anointed Massachusetts author.

Glass (I See You Everywhere, 2008, etc.) observes and gently mocks her charmingly self-absorbed characters in an unmannered manner reminiscent of her popular contemporary Allegra Goodman and their accomplished forerunner Anne Tyler. This time around, age and youth, urban and small-town life, straight and gay relationships, and aesthetic and political priorities are examined with a beguiling mixture of gusto and delicacy. Focal character Percy Darling is a 70-year-old widower living in retirement (from his longtime employment at Harvard’s Widener Library) not far from Boston, where he has donated to a trendy preschool use of the barn on his expansive property. The busy activities at “Elves & Fairies” stimulate bittersweet memories of Percy’s late wife Poppy, who had housed a dance studio in that very barn, before perishing in a senseless accident 30 years earlier. As the novel ambles deceptively along, gathering momentum and complexity, Percy—really more of a curmudgeon than a “darling”—discovers that his life is much more than the shell of its former self he’d been prepared to accept. Glass moves the viewpoint skillfully, showing how Percy’s late-life learning curve intersects with those of such variously involved characters as his elder daughter Clover, whose shaky grasp of the responsibilities of adulthood contrasts cruelly with her younger sister’s career as a prominent oncologist; her nephew (and Percy’s pride and joy) Robert, a Harvard pre-med student who plunges into the darkest waters of environmental activism; gay preschool teacher Ira, an unlikely source of more lessons for Percy; and “illegal” Guatemalan handyman Celestino, an optimist who just may become the man Percy has always believed himself to be. Reversals of fortune and chastening surprises are in store for them all.

Glass’s perfect plot gives each character his or her due, in an irresistible pastoral tragicomedy that showcases the warmth and wisdom of one of America’s finest novelists, approaching if not already arrived at her peak.