Oct 6th, 2010 by Marilyn
The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass
The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass is the story of Percival Darling. He still lives in the house where his daughters grew up – “the house of her mother’s heart” according to Clover, Percy’s eldest daughter. Percy is a 70 year old who runs everyday to get in shape to die and who fantasizes of a quasi-Luddite retirement - “Cursed be the cursors; farewell to iEverything and its pertly nicknamed apps.” When Percy reflects on his life, he says, “…for most of my life, I’ve fancied myself a passenger on a train as it moves along through various landscapes. Some are repeated, some are unique–some ugly, some magnificent. But now… now I feel as if I’m a fixed point in the landscape itself, the trains passing me by. Each one faster than the one before.”
While driving around in Matlock, Percy and his new bride, Poppy, came across a dilapidated house overlooking Azor’s Pond. ”Percy. A house with a barn by the water. Think of it.” They were smitten.
Many years have passed and many memories made in the house of Poppy’s heart. Percy’s daughters are grown with children of their own and his beloved barn has been turned into Elves and Fairies, a premiere preschool for “tiny perfect children” and their “preened and privileged parents.” Percy lives his life, meeting new people along the way and making adjustments when necessary to facilitate the decisions of those around him. I would say overall Percy Darling leads a pretty interesting life and has jumped back on that train to view the various landscapes of life.
From the Publisher
In a historic farmhouse outside Boston, seventy-year-old Percy Darling is settling happily into retirement: reading novels, watching old movies, and swimming naked in his pond. His routines are disrupted, however, when he is persuaded to let a locally beloved preschool take over his barn. As Percy sees his rural refuge overrun by children, parents, and teachers, he must reexamine the solitary life he has made in the three decades since the sudden death of his wife. No longer can he remain aloof from his community, his two grown daughters, or, to his shock, the precarious joy of falling in love. Continue Reading
One relationship Percy treasures is the bond with his oldest grandchild, Robert, a premed student at Harvard. Robert has long assumed he will follow in the footsteps of his mother, a prominent physician, but he begins to question his ambitions when confronted by a charismatic roommate who preaches—and begins to practice—an extreme form of ecological activism, targeting Boston’s most affluent suburbs.
Meanwhile, two other men become fatefully involved with Percy and Robert: Ira, a gay teacher at the preschool, and Celestino, a Guatemalan gardener who works for Percy’s neighbor, each one striving to overcome a sense of personal exile. Choices made by all four men, as well as by the women around them, collide forcefully on one lovely spring evening, upending everyone’s lives, but none more radically than Percy’s.
With equal parts affection and satire, Julia Glass spins a captivating tale about the loyalties, rivalries, and secrets of a very particular family. Yet again, she plumbs the human heart brilliantly, dramatically, and movingly.
Book Club Ideas
There are many flowers mentioned in the book that can be used for decorations.
Tiger Lilies – Clover gave a bouquet of tiger lilies to Ira to thank him for setting up
an appointment with Anthony (page 189).
Roses- Celestino was a “master gardener” of sorts and tended many gardens with roses.
He is preparing a bed for Percy that is perfect to plant roses (page 398).
Another decorating idea is to display a mason jar with pieces of broken plates – “The only memento of former owners was a mason jar, on the tank of the baby-blue toilet, filled with sea crockery” (page 389). Percy decided that he would add to this odd collection.
What to Wear
Stick with the Woodstock theme for your garb.
Ira wore black jeans, Grateful Dead t-shirt, and a fuchsia corduroy blazer and Anthony wore a cheap, chunky peace sign (page 351). Evelyn wore Earth Shoes, a paisley maxidress and a jean jacket with a garland of fake daisies (page 356). Get creative when dressing up 60′s style!
Here are some photos of our 60′s party.
You can also wear a ring similar to the one Robert received from Aunt Clover. Robert had a crush on his Aunt Clover and asked her if she would marry him when he was older. Clover took Robert aside and explained how she was engaged to Todd but he would otherwise be a viable suitor. “But you will always be special to me, forever and ever.” She then handed him her pinkie ring, a ring with a pair of clasped hands (page 63). Robert kept this ring in a box in his sock drawer and it makes an appearance two more times in the story (pages 142, 373).
Taking Woodstock (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Book Club Menu
Sandwiches were eaten many times throughout this book so a Sandwich Tray would be a perfect appetizer.
When Celestino and Isabelle meet for lunch she orders Ceasar salad with grilled salmon (page 304). This inspired me to make Tortellini Salmon Salad with Lemon Dill Dressing.
For dessert make a Pumpkin Tiramisu- Robert’s dad is preparing for Thanksgiving (page 203) and he makes a pumpkin tiramisu. This sounded so good, I just had to try it.
Other menu options
Thai food can be served. Everyone meets for Clover’s birthday at My Thai restaurant (page 57) and they also have Thai food catered for the Woodstock Elves and Fairies auction (page 332).
Robert visits Uncle Todd in New York and Moira serves paella and strawberry shortcake (page 324 & 327).
** Robert’s friend, Arturo, is eco-fanatic. You and your guests don’t need to be to that extreme but have some recycle bins set out so glass, plastic and paper can be recycled. **
Book Club Resources
Ratings at the time this post was published
|Goodreads: 3.59 stars (1,086 reviews)|
|Amazon: 4.1 stars (76 reviews)|
|Barnes & Noble: 3.5 stars (86 reviews)|
|My Rating: 4 stars|
“Elaborately plotted and luxuriously paced, Glass’s inquisitive, compassionate, funny, and suspenseful saga addresses significant and thorny social issues with emotional veracity, artistic nuance, and a profound perception of the grand interconnectivity of life.” — Booklist (starred review)
“Glass handles the coalescing plot elements with astute insights into the complexity of family relationships, the gulf between social classes, and our modern culture of excess to create a dramatic, thought-provoking, and immensely satisfying novel.” — Publisher’s Weekly
“Some books grab you from the first page. Julia Glass’s novel, The Widower’s Tale, lightly touches you on the shoulder and requests your kind attention to an enchanting story of familial bonds and late-life romance…. Meanwhile, a rich mix of other characters play out their own dramas in a leisurely fashion. But who cares how long the journey takes when you’re in such good company?” — O Magazine (August 2010)
Purchase The Widower’s Tale at your favorite bookseller
Julia Glass was born in Boston, Massachusetts and graduated from Yale in 1978. Her debut novel, Three Junes, won the National Book Award in 2002. The Widower’s Tale is her forth novel.
Other Works by Julia Glass
My favorite line in the book – “When I finished, he hadn’t a syllable at his service; not even the knee-jerk “Whatever” that members of his generation mutter when conversationally cornered” (page 4). I love the “conversationally cornered” depiction of the phrase that is way overused by the youth of today.
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