Fans of Julia Glass have come to love her stories of family relationships and the complexity of life’s small moments, most notably in Three Junes, winner of the 2002 National Book Award. Both funny and heartbreaking, her fourth novel will leave readers examining their own choices and priorities.
The Widower’s Tale is the story of Percy Darling, a 70-year-old man who has lived for decades in the same house in the same Massachusetts town. He has been a widower for 32 years, since his wife drowned in the pond behind their home. Percy raised their daughters Clover and Trudy alone, never loving another woman.
When Percy allows the progressive preschool Elves & Fairies to take up residence in the barn in his backyard, life changes in unexpected ways. Clover, who has recently left her husband and children in New York, works at the school. Trudy’s son Robert, a student at Harvard, helps construct a tree house for the school along with Guatemalan lawn-care worker Celestino, an illegal immigrant. Most surprisingly, Percy falls in love. His lover is Sarah, a 51-year-old mother at the school.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Glass’ novel is that she writes convincingly from multiple points of view, classes and stations in life. The story is told in four alternating voices: Percy, who is at the center of the narrative; Robert; Celestino; and Ira, a young gay man who teaches at Elves & Fairies, and who is newly employed after a damaging experience at another preschool.
A major theme of The Widower’s Tale is that of “shifting shape,” a description Percy gives to his newly populated barn, but which also can apply to Glass’ characters. For many years satisfied with solitude, Percy starts to laugh and love more as he gets to know Sarah—although he does not lose his sarcastic sense of humor or his old-fashioned sensibility. Robert confronts the demands of friendship and the authenticity of his convictions when he becomes involved with a radical environmental action group, the DOGS (“Denounce Our Greedy Society”). Celestino acknowledges his unrooted life when he revisits his first love. Ira faces the cynic inside of him and tries to embrace what he has.
The reader, in turn, will embrace these wonderfully developed characters as they transform and adapt. Satisfying and touching, The Widower’s Tale is a novel to remember and cherish.