A Widow for One Year

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A Widow for One Year
Widow for 1yr.jpg
First edition
Author John Irving
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Random House
Publication date
May 5, 1998
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 537 pp
ISBN 0-375-50137-1
OCLC 37955786
813/.54 21
LC Class PS3559.R8 W53 1998
Preceded by A Son of the Circus
Followed by The Fourth Hand

A Widow for One Year is a 1998 bestselling work of fiction by John Irving, the ninth of his novels to be published.

The first section of the novel was made into the movie The Door in the Floor in 2004.


First section[edit]

In the opening section of the book, the year is 1958 and Ruth Cole is 4 years old. Although she is a loved child, her parents do not have a happy marriage. Her two older brothers died several years earlier in a tragic accident, and she is constantly reminded of their presence by the pictures of boys' childhood hanging on the walls of the Cole family home. Ruth's father, Ted Cole, is a successful writer and illustrator of books for children. He hires Eddie O'Hare, a teenager who attends Phillips Exeter Academy, the same school as Ruth's two late brothers, to work as his assistant for the summer. Eddie is unwittingly drawn into a plot orchestrated by Ted to drive his unhappy wife, Marion, to infidelity. Marion, unable to forget her dead sons, shows little affection to her daughter. Ted has always conducted extramarital affairs and would likely lose in a custody battle for Ruth. If Marion had an affair, especially with a teenager, it would strengthen the case for custody to be awarded to him. Ted picks Eddie specifically to tempt Marion because he bears a striking resemblance to his son Thomas, "the confident one". Eddie and Marion's affair leads to Marion's disappearance at the end of the summer.

Second section[edit]

It is 1990 and Ruth is 36. She has become a popular, critically acclaimed novelist and is promoting her third and most recent novel, preparing to travel to Europe. She reconnects with Eddie, for the first time since she was 4 years old, when he introduces her at a reading she gives in New York before her European travels. Soon, having come up with the idea for her fourth novel, Ruth is researching in Amsterdam's red light district and finds herself hiding in a closet to witness a prostitute (she has somewhat befriended) with a client. Instead she ends up witnessing the murder of the prostitute. She makes note of certain details of the murder and anonymously sends them to the police, which eventually leads to the murderer being captured. The detective who helps solve the murder becomes preoccupied with finding the "witness" long after Ruth returns to the United States.

Third section[edit]

Ruth is now 41 and has a son, though her husband has died. This section covers Ruth's own year of widowhood ("A Widow for One Year" is a literal description of Ruth's situation as well as a reference to the first chapter of her third novel, "Not For Children"). The detective who had helped solve the murder case in Amsterdam has finally realized that Ruth is the "witness" due to details she used in her new novel, especially her description of a room identical to the murdered prostitute's. The detective, who had been a dear friend to the prostitute, is also a fan of Ruth's work. Ruth learns that the murder was solved. She meets the detective on her next trip to Europe and they fall in love. The romance is quick and he agrees to follow Ruth to Vermont. They marry. Ruth (and Eddie) unexpectedly reunite with Marion in the end.

Cultural references[edit]

  • In a theme common to many Irving novels, Eddie is the son of a teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy. He grows up on the campus, and subsequently attends secondary school there.
  • Ruth is a fan of Graham Greene (she even names her son "Graham" after him), and in the novel reads The Life of Graham Greene by Norman Sherry.
  • When Ruth marries for the first time, Eddie reads the passage about marriage from George Eliot's novel Adam Bede.
  • At Allan's memorial service, Eddie reads the poem "When you are old" by William Butler Yeats.
  • When Harry marries Ruth, he reads Yeats' poem "He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven".
  • One of the children's books that Ted Cole writes, A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound, has become a real children's novel with illustrations by Tatjana Hauptmann.

External links[edit]