Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hilma Wolitzer writes about romance in retirement.

When I read that this was a story about a widower who is dating in his sixties, I thought it sounded interesting.

An Available Man

In An Available Man (304 pages, Ballantine Books, $25), Hilma Wolitzer tells the tale of Edward Schuyler, a young sixty-something who lost his loving wife to cancer. After seeing her through the illness, he is exhausted when she dies, and his grief takes the form, as it often does, of his pulling back from the world and brooding over the past in utter privacy.

Edward has friends and family who won’t put up with this, however, and no sooner is he dragging himself unwillingly to a grief counseling group, than he finds they are trying to fix him up with friends and encouraging him to pull himself together.

One singularly unsuccessful venture in this regard is when his best friends, or rather when the wife of this couple tries to fix him up with a cousin of hers, both Edward and the woman, who’s called Olga, withdraw and resent the exercise. This is funny to read, perhaps because it will be familiar to anyone who has been on a “blind date.”

And as if this is not enough, his children—they are really his stepchildren from his wife’s first marriage—take out a personals ad in the New York Review of Books and delight in watching him sort through the responses, which are many, even if the dates that result are as unsuccessful as that first blind date.

While all this is going on, Edward thinks back to his first love, the woman who captured his heart and then left him standing at the altar. When she turns up in his dating pool, he is at first angry, but then they start to rekindle the love of their youth.

This is not the end of the story, though, and Wolitzer is not the novelist to end things this way, and she doesn’t.

What does happen is too wonderful to relate here—it would spoil the ending—but I can say that Wolitzer finds a way to give Edward a new life without his having to relinquish his memories. This is beautifully done.

What is also beautiful is the way in which Wolitzer creates the feeling of loss and emptiness that a man in his sixties might feel. Still alive and wanting to feel intimacy, Edward is unable to respond even when he wants to. All this is evocatively told, and I found this touching and memorable on the topics of love and loss.

Hilma Wolitzer

An Available Man can be purchased at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

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