The Widower’sTale

The names Percy Darling and Sarah Straight could be from a macabre reinvention of  Peter Pan. Instead they predictably add little weight to Julia Glass’s The Widower’s Tale.

Harvard's Widener Library

This was a “hot pick”  from my library, which meant I had to read it within a week –usually no challenge for me, but 70 year-old Percy’s somnabulant life as a retired college librarian, oblique references to the mysterious death of his young wife (Poppy), and the soft-peddling of his immediate family’s daily copings – worked better than a sleeping pill.

As I sloughed through, clearly something was about to happen –eventually.  Would it happen within the week allotted?

Aside from the predictable, that is, Percy finds new love – the subplots struggle to spice up the action with too much detail and unrealistic dialogue.  Glass has her characters not only think aloud about the minutia of their lives, but also about each others – the internal, eternal gossip of a family saga.

Stories overlap and all somehow relate to good old Percy:   Ira, the gay pre-school teacher who works in Percy’s converted barn/school; Clover, the forty-something daughter who has yet to grow up; her sister, Truthful – better known as Dr. Trudy of the women’s clinic – whose tolerance does not extend to her sister.

But the characters that kept me reading, despite the temptation to stop, were Robert, the “perfect” grandson, whose Harvard roomie is becoming the new dangerous environmental vigilante; and Celestino, the illegal Guatemalan landscaper, with potential for more in his life.

The story and the characters wake up at the end – literally in a blaze – but it was too long in coming.   Percy notes and I agree …

“I am a man of too many words…”

Glass polishes off the story with lessons learned and life goes on to meet new challenges.   For me, the challenge was to finish…and wonder why it was a hot pick.

But the first line is a keeper –

“Why, thank you, I’m getting in shape to die.”