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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Review of How to Talk to a Widower

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of How to Talk to a Widower:

This is the third Tropper novel I have read, the first being This is Where I Leave You. I liked both of them a lot. They are poignant, sweet, funny, vicious, and insightful.  His family dinner scenes are classic.  They have you laughing out loud only to get sucker punched by the perceptiveness.  He does this through the classic comedian's technique of hyperbole, but it's not exaggerated so much that it becomes caricature.  We've all seen elements of his dysfunctional family in ourselves and others.

His books (from what I've read his others do also) also relate to how we deal with death; in this one Doug Parker, age twenty-nine, wallows in self-pity after the death of his wife, Hailey, in a plane crash.  She was older than he and came with a twelve-year-old son, Russ.

At the dinner celebrating  his sister Deb's upcoming marriage, as things go from bad to worse,

Russ [Doug's stepson] excuses himself for a minute, is gone for fifteen, and comes back with his eyes glazed over. “You had to get high right now?” I whisper to him. “It was so important?” “It was a biological imperative, dude. It is fucking intense in here.” “It’s just dinner with the family.” “Come on, man. It’s like there’s a hunk of C4 strapped to the table and we’re all just waiting to see when it will detonate. I can’t believe you dragged me here.”

It’s a tricky enough business forming a friendship with a pissed-off teenager under the best of circumstances. Now try it when you’re sleeping with his mother, when you are, quite literally, a motherfucker. Let me tell you, that requires a whole other skill set. When I first moved in, I knew I’d have to make an effort to bond with Russ so that Hailey could feel good about the whole arrangement. If she didn’t, it wasn’t like she was going to give her kid the boot. Last one hired, first one fired. And so I applied myself like a laid-back uncle, giving him lifts to school or the mall to meet his friends, taking him to the occasional weeknight movie, editing his term papers, and, more recently, taking him out for driving practice in my secondhand Saab. I was a lazy boy and I am a lazy man, and the beauty of the situation was that I wasn’t really expected to be a parent to Russ, which, based on the limited wisdom I have to offer, was a win-win situation for all involved.

They had not been married long and Doug refuses to admit that life goes on: his twin sister is leaving her husband after becoming pregnant and his younger sister, Deb, is getting married to Mike whom she met at Doug's shiva for Hailey, a source of much resentment. Then there is his dad who has just survived a personality-changing stroke.  Doug, a columnist, has begin writing a column which is becoming increasingly popular, called "How to Talk to a Widower."

Doug has become a self-imposed social outcast, spending his time throwing rocks (and cell phone) at the rabbits in his yard, saying the kinds of things I guess we all wish we had the guts to. "I lost something after Hailey died. I’m not sure what to call it, but it’s the device that stops you from telling the truth when people ask you how you’re doing, that vital valve that keeps your deeper, truer emotions under lock and key. I don’t know exactly when I lost it, or how to get it back, but for now, when it comes to tact, civility, and discretion, I’m an accident waiting to happen, over and over again."  So you get marvelously delicious scenes like this one:

"... few weeks ago, a Jehovah’s Witness or a Jew for Jesus or some other freak on happy pills selling God in a pamphlet showed up at my door, smiling like a cartoon, and said, “Have you let God into your life?” “God can fuck himself.” He smiled beatifically at me, like I’d just complimented his crappy JCPenney suit. “I once felt the way you do, brother.” “You’re not my brother,” I hissed at him. “And you have never felt like this. If you’d ever felt like this, you would still feel like this, because it doesn’t go away."

And the scene where he goes out on a date with a divorcee who has two young children is priceless. Let's just say part of it involves him noting that he usually doesn't mop up vomit until the third date.

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