Tuesday, March 1, 2011
The Widower's Tale by Julie Glass
Percy is the widower sharing his tale in this deceptively simple and straighforward book. He has lived in Matlock for over four decades, raising two daughters mostly alont, after his wife drowned in a grievous accident more than 30 years ago. Now in their 40s, his daughters have children of their own.
Except for Percy's devotion to Robert (his grandson), there's little that has complicated Percy's daily life--until now. His older daughter, who recently abandoned her husband and two young children in Brooklyn, has returned home to Matlock without much of a plan. In response, Percy has agreed to lease his huge, picturesque barn to a local preschool called Elves & Fairies, with the provision that his daughter be given a job there--which is a certain amount of mayhem. through the preschool, he gets involved with a woman for the first time since his wife has died, only to find a lump in her breast, and refers her to his eldest daughter--an oncologist renowned for her care of breast cancer patients.
Fortunately, these complications and coindidences feel natural. His story would be engaging enough on its own, but there are many more stories here than just this widower's tale. In a typical Glass technique, the author weaves Percy's first-person narration in and out of several other alternating points of view. We hear from Robert, whose friendship with an impassioned environmental activist might compromise his brilliant Harvard career; Celestino, a Guatemalan gardener with a thorny past and a justifiable fear of deportation; and Ira, a teacher at Elves & Fairies who's conflicted about making a permanent commitment to his boyfriend, a high-end divorce lawyer.
Each strand of this narrative is surprisingly supple, offering a convincing illusion of lives roundly lived. The effect is one of remarkable expansiveness, in which a rather modest small-town story is able to incorporate all kinds of contemporary social issues, including illegal immigration, eco-terrorism, health-care coverage, divorce and gay marriage.
This is a remarkable book, easy to read and hard to forget.