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A Widow for One Year
by John Irving

Random House, $27.95

Review by Jim Argendeli

(CNN) -- Alright, I admit it. I am not ashamed of what I have become. I may have occasional feelings of guilt, but they are fleeting once I became captured in the story John Irving weaves in his new tapestry "A Widow For One Year".

The author of the must-read novel of the late 70s and 80s -- "The World According To Garp" -- has written what might be the must-read novel of the late 90s.

In his tenth book, Irving divides his novel into three sections, starting in the Hamptons during the summer of 1958. There we are introduced to 4-year-old Ruth Cole, who wakes during the night to what she thinks is the sound of her 38-year-old mother Marion throwing up. When Ruth goes to investigate, she interrupts mom's sexual liaison with 16-year-old lover Edward O' Hare.

Irving lures us into his story by revealing how Ruth's parents, Ted and Marion, are separated but living in neighboring houses. The disintegration of the Cole's marriage was sparked by the tragic death of their two teen-age sons five years earlier. Into this dysfunctional non-family arrives Marion's young lover. Edward is hired to be a writer's assistant for Ted, who is a best-selling children's author. Edward's main official duty is to chauffeur Ted, who enjoys his drinking along with seducing lonely housewives.

Read the First Chapter of "Widow For One Year"

Marion is not just Eddie's "Mrs. Robinson" -- he is in love with her, heart and soul. The section ends with Marion making a decision about her relationships with Ruth, Ted, and Eddie that impacts them for the rest of the novel.

The second and longest section of the book takes place 32 years later when Ruth has grown up to become a very successful novelist, Ted is a 77-year-old seducer of younger women, and Eddie is also a novelist whose book plots all relate to a younger man/older woman syndrome. Ruth's group of confidants is rounded out by her editor Alan and her bed-hopping best friend Hannah.

The final section of the story jumps ahead five years to reveal what has happened to our characters, including the fate of Ruth's mother.

In reading "A Widow For One Year" I felt like a voyeur. Irving brings these characters so fully to life that I felt like I was intruding on people's lives, peeking in their window. Consider Irving's description of Eddie's father after a stroke:

"Since his third stroke, Minty's fuzzy slippers were held to his unfeeling feet with rubber bands; they squeaked on the floor under his flattened insteps. The slippers, which were pink, had belonged to Eddie's mom, because Minty's feet had shrunk to the degree that his own slippers could not be kept on his feet -- not even with rubber bands."

This concise paragraph brings to life the touching reality that all of us with aging parents must face.

As in the past, when tragic events happen to John Irving characters there is seldom any warning. Just like life.

I almost wanted to stop reading and let these "real" people live out their lives without my prying eyes ... Almost.

Jim Argendeli is an avid reader and book collector who lives with his wife in Georgia.

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