16 Jul / The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass
Just sigh with me a moment. Deep breath in, deep breath out … and out and out. That’s the sort of relief you should feel with a really good book, thoroughly well read, as you close 2002 National Book Award-winning Julia Glass’ most recent novel. Tale intimately takes readers into the life of a New England septuagenarian who will realize he has finally arrived at “a place of becoming, away from a place of having been.” And what an excellent, swooning, entertaining, sigh-inducing journey it proves to be …
Percival Darling lives in a gracious old house in Matlock, a now-posh Boston suburb, which gives him ample opportunity to complain about times gone by. He’s retired from his Harvard library job, still runs and swims (naked) every day, and is bemoaning the imminent arrival of Matlock’s youngest when the new preschool opens in his beloved, late wife Poppy’s barn which once was her dance studio. Poppy has been gone for decades, but Percy misses her every day. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon with a spectacular vocabulary, but yes, he’s truly a softy at heart.
In his regular orbit are his two daughters – the younger an eminent oncologist, contentedly married to a divorce mediator, with a promising Harvard undergrad as their son; the older daughter who is the newest employee at the preschool, is currently estranged from her own two children who live with their might-be-gay father in Manhattan. Now that Matlock’s finest pint-sized citizens will be daily visitors, Percy must gird his loins, and as he goes to pick up a first swim suit in decades, he meets Sarah, his first possible love interest since his too-early widowerhood.
Percy’s next door neighbor whom he glibly refers to as Mistress Lorelei with whom he’s had a feud for years, unexpectedly is ready to play nice. Her temporary gardener, Celestino, proves to be a capable, helpful, young man from Guatemala, who turns out to have quite a fascinating history (famous benefactor, ancient Mayan archeological digs, a runaway life). Celestino will meet and befriend Percy’s grandson Robert, who will in turn introduce Celestino to Robert’s Harvard roommate Truro, a privileged hapa Guatemalan Filipino eco-minded vigilante.
In Glass’ deft imagination, relationships overlap and dovetail with natural ease. All the characters orbit various degrees from Percy as he approaches the end of his 70th year, which ends with a fiery bang. Literally. From the ashes, he emerges with a surprising, but content new life … unlike any he ever considered or expected …