Girl meets boy. Girl gets boy. Boy gets crushed to death by Giacometti sculpture on way home from illicit affair on Upper East Side.
Love: It’s never quite as simple as it seems, is it? It certainly doesn’t seem that way for Claire Byrne, the titular character of Carole Radziwill’s funny and smart debut novel, The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating. Claire’s soon-to-be late husband, Charles Byrne, is a renowned sexologist who’s considerably older than his 34-year-old wife. She’s a promising writer and journalist in the middle of an Austin, Texas interview when she gets the news that Charlie is dead in New York. She’s shocked, she’s grieving...and subsequently strangely attracted to her husband’s mortician.
“This book is about death, sex and love, in that order, but it’s a comedy,” Radziwill says. “That Charlie gets killed by a Giacometti falling from a penthouse—especially since it turns out to be a forgery—sets the tone right away.” But sex in Manhattan doesn’t always equate with Sex and the City. “My intension wasn’t to write some book about fun, dating and designer clothes—in fact, I make a point of not really mentioning Claire’s fashion. She’s on a journey in search of meaning in her life, but she’s not especially looking to find Mr. Right,” she says.
Being married to Charlie meant belonging to his world, and Claire had to adapt to the role of Mrs. Byrne: “Charlie cast a long shadow. Claire had learned early on with him that one of her better qualities was knowing where to stand in it,” Radziwill writes. But what seems to be comforting at first may be revealed, under scrutiny, to stifle. “Some women get married young and they choose a man who’s considerably older and stronger and the star, and kind of take up with his life. Some women can get lost in a marriage, so this is Claire’s chance to discover who she is. She didn’t necessarily want it, but she embraced it once it befell her,” she says.
In New York, the traditional first stop is a shrink. Claire takes two. She consults an oracle and a “botanomanist,” who burns intoxicatin
g herbs, to tell her future. She follows a griot through the West Village to learn the scandalous and salacious stories of New York City past (all true, notes Radziwill). She carefully weighs reentering the dating scene with a little help from her friends: “Ethan was anxious about change. He was plainly in the cool your heels camp. Sasha, though, thought it high time to move on. As she delicately put it, ‘If there was anyone who would have wanted to see you get laid, it would have been your dead husband, God rest his perverted soul,’ ” Radziwill writes. A hockey player, a billionaire, two movie stars—one of whom is George Clooney-like Jack Huxley, who just so happens to be the subject of an unfinished book by Charlie Byrne.
Radziwill is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who covered events around the globe for ABC News. Her bestselling memoir, What Remains (2005), chronicled a loving marriage cut short: husband Anthony Radziwill, the nephew of President Kennedy and a Polish prince, died of cancer in 1999. “I’m sure everyone will think it’s autobiographical, and Claire’s me, but she’s not,” she says. “I think [The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating] is much lighter than people will probably imagine. My first one made everyone cry—even strangers come up to me and say it. I’m hoping something similar will happen with Widow’s Guide: ‘I loved your book so much, I laughed out loud the whole time.’ ”
Megan Labrise is a freelance writer and columnist based in New York. Follow her on Twitter.