I began The Widower’s Tale in anticipation of Julia Glass’s appearance at the UMass Dartmouth Library Associates’ Literary Tea—held last week—where she was one of the featured writers. I’m a fan of Glass’s earlier works—my favorites are The Whole World Over and Three Junes—and was impressed that such a top author was one of the three guests at the event (the others were Margot Livesey and Ha Jin).
Widower’s Tale marks a change in setting for Glass. Her earlier books centered on New York City, but this “tale” is set in the suburbs of Boston. As Glass explained at the tea, she grew up in Lincoln (a Boston suburb), and after many years in NYC, has now returned to her hometown. She was surprised at the changes: more wealth, upscale housing developments, and pretensions (such as the Raw Milk Co-op she described in her talk). Similarly, her main character, seventy-year-old curmudgeon Percy Darling, rails against the changes in his suburb; he’s lived there for decades but only begins to notice the changes after retirement.
In addition to Percy, the novel features three other male viewpoints: Percy’s grandson, a migrant worker who tends the neighborhood’s lawns, and a gay teacher at the pre-school that’s situated on Percy’s land (in a deal to ensure a job for his errant older daughter). We witness environmental terrorism, child custody struggles, breast cancer, and family secrets.
While I don’t think this “tale” stands up to Glass’s earlier works, it has its interesting and entertaining moments.