Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating by Carole Raziwell

Book Description from Booklist
When Claire Byrne’s intellectual husband dies in a freak accident with a falling sculpture (a fake, at that), she must figure out how to be a widow. Her marriage was defined by the age gap, Charles’ insistence (academic and otherwise) that there is either love or sex (not both), and his frequent infidelities. Claire has almost no identity of her own, and she is convinced by friends to lose her widowed virginity and move on. Radziwill’s first novel (after her memoir, What Remains, 2005) is a very New York book, even when Claire travels to L.A. to interview (and sleep with) a movie star. There is a constant war between lightness and heaviness in the subject, in the story, and in the telling that seems intrinsic to city dwellers. The plot features a lot of takeout, and Claire sees multiple therapists, a psychic, and a botanomanist to get herself sorted out, which, by the end, she more or less does. Radziwill’s book may receive extra coverage due to her association with the Kennedys and her appearance on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. --Susan Maguire

The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating by Carole Raziwell left me feeling many different things. Some good, some bad.

The Good
This book is about modern widowhood. When Claire's famous husband dies suddenly and absurdly by a giant piece of artwork, Claire must learn how to go on with her life. She has two problems. The first is that she wants sex and love. The second is that even though her husband is dead, she still has to live in his shadow.

As a widow myself, I found what Raziwell, as Claire, writes about widowhood all too familiar. We aren't allowed to think about dating or men or sex because we are supposed to spend the first year mourning.

I love that Raziwell is honest about how there are "perks" to being a widow. The biggest perk of all is that we don't have the baggage of divorce and other women perceive that as a threat.

I particularly found the 3 - 6 - 3 rule true. During the first 3 months of widowhood people bend over backwards to make sure you are okay. Then during the next six months they are somewhat concerned but go back to their own lives while you try to figure out yours. The last 3 months of the first year, they practically forget you are a widow.

This book made fun of being a widow without being insensitive or cruel. It observed the truth about death and widowhood: they are absurd. Having to date again after being married for years or decades is absurd. And most of us widows have no idea what we are doing when it comes to dating and relationships.

I think that was my favorite part about Claire. She was a widow who had no idea how to date again. And when she gets involved with Mr. Hollywood Movie Star himself she doesn't know what to do with herself. This is a book about misadventures. (Fun Fact: Mr. Hollywood Movie Star's character is rumored to be based on George Clooney.)

The Bad
Some of this book was badly written. For example, at one point Radziwill literally explains what the phrase "talking animatedly" means. In another part, drinks that were cleared away two paragraphs ago suddenly reappear. She begins part two of the book by summarizing what happened in part one. These could have been fixed with some better editing.

There are characters in the book and interactions that seem pointless. Like all of Claire's therapy sessions with therapist #1 about her dreams. One dream which Anna Karenina had. (The therapist says so.) That's just lazy writing. Radziwell couldn't even think up an original dream?

While Claire's observations about widowhood are true, she never seems to grieve. True she didn't have the happiest marriage but you only see her break down and cry over her husband once. She never misses him at random moments like real widows do. A song comes on the radio that brings back a flood of memories and emotions. You're channel surfing and the movie you saw on your first date comes on. Things like that never happen to Claire. It makes her seem...well, rather cold.

Lastly, and this is my biggest complaint. What the heck does Claire do all day for over a year? She's rich from her late husband so doesn't have to work. She barely works on the book she is supposed to be finishing (about Mr. Hollywood Movie Star himself). Does she do charity work? Does she just shop all day? Watch soap operas? What?

I am a single mother in a small town struggling financially and my late husband died leaving me four children to take care of by myself. It was really hard for me to sympathize with Claire, a rich widow whose biggest problem seems to be that she can't figure out the Starbucks menu and that she's not sure if she's just casually dating the most famous movie star in Hollywood. While the book was entertaining and fun, it would have been nice to see something more real and down to earth in it. The truth is Claire seemed rather shallow. Add that to her seeming cold and it just made the main character overall completely unlikable. I almost rooted for Mr. Hollywood Movie Star to break her heart.

Oh wait, I do have one final complaint. The muddled ending that seemed to go on way too long and took itself way too seriously. The tone of the last 20 pages was completely different than the rest of the book. It's like Radziwill wanted her fun, chick lit book to suddenly become deep and meaningful.

Overall I did truly enjoy the book. I do hope Carole Radziwill writes more. I hear her memoir What Remains is very good. My rating Photobucket

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