I was skeptical when I found out the author of The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating stars on “The Real Housewives of New York.” And when the epigram was a Lady Gaga quote, I thought I was in for a long slog. What a pleasant surprise, then, when the book turned out to be one of the richest, most deeply satisfying stories I’ve read in a long time.

At 32, Claire Byrne is smart, beautiful and married to famous author and sexologist Charlie Byrne. She dabbles in magazine writing, but is mostly content in his larger-than-life shadow, following him from party to party around Manhattan, where he’s never short on opinions and admirers. “He gave her entrée into the elite upper reaches of words and the people who traded in them; she gave him a wide swath,” Radziwill writes.

Then Charlie is improbably killed by a falling piece of art while walking home from a tryst with his publicist, and Claire finds herself with the burden (opportunity?) of redefining her life as a widow. She fumbles through dates set up by well-intentioned girlfriends, drinks a lot of wine, sleeps too much and consults a ridiculous series of questionable therapists.

When Charlie’s editor asks Claire to finish Charlie’s last book, Claire finds herself face-to-face with the book’s subject, movie star Jack Huxley. As their relationship deepens, Claire has to decide whether she is willing to step into someone else’s shadow again.

An award-winning former TV reporter, Radziwill is also the author of the well-received What Remains—a memoir of her marriage, which ended when her husband died of cancer in 1999. It’s hard to know how much of her own experience colors this debut novel. What is clear is that her spare writing and wry voice make The Widow’s Guide an exhilarating, insightful and moving story about loss and identity. 

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