Saturday, 18 February 2012

How to Talk to a Widower

"When Doug married Hailey - beautiful, smart and ten years older - he left his carefree Manhattan life to live in the suburbs with Hailey and her teenage son, Russ. Three years later, at 29, Doug has been a widower for twelve months and just wants to drown himself in self-pity and Jack Daniels. But his family has other ideas... Russ is furious with Doug for not adopting him, and has fallen in with a bad crowd. Claire, Doug's irrepressible, pregnant twin sister, has left her husband and, uninvited, moved in with Doug. And their sister Debbie is determined to have the perfect wedding, at any cost. Soon, Doug finds himself trying to forge a relationship with Russ, reconnect with his own eccentric family, and reluctantly edges back into the complicated world of dating... "

I'd say this was chick-lit, if it had been written by a woman. As it was, it was written by a man and has an edginess to it that you don't find in typical chick-lit. It is sharply observed and darkly funny. There are some real laugh out loud moments, but underneath it all is Doug's deep despair at the loss of Hailey and his unwillingness and inability to reengage with the world in any meaningful fashion.

I found Debbie's wedding to be a bit of an unnecessary distraction, although I could see why it was there (Debbie "met" her future husband while Doug was sitting Shiva for Hailey). Claire was delightfully bonkers, trying to encourage her grieving brother to get back on the market. The relationship I liked best though was the one between Doug and Russ. For a 29 year old to take on a 17 year old stepson would be daunting enough, without the pair of them having the emotional baggage of a lost wife and mother, respectively. Doug has to tread a fine line between being a father or big brother figure or Russ's mate.

There's another victim in this story. Doug's father is a stroke victim with intermittent memory loss. Sometimes he forgets Hailey is dead and sometimes he is totally clued up. The book very touchingly shows his relationship with Doug (which has actually improved a lot since the stroke) and his wife, who is struggling herself to come to terms with the loss of the man she married, although he is still there physically.

I'd give this a strong 4. Light enough to be a holiday read, yet way too deeply emotional to be trivial.

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