The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass
Pantheon • $25.95 • September 7, 2010
In 2002, Julia Glass won the National Book Award for Three Junes, a wonderful novel about Scottish family the McLeods. BookPage contributor Alden Mudge praised an aspect of Glass’s storytelling in his interview with the author: he wrote that the reader will be touched by the “numerous small, brilliantly rendered moments–the gestures, objects and places that suggest the larger dramas in the lives of the McLeod family.”
One of my favorite early scenes from The Widower’s Tale, Glass’s newest novel, is one such moment. In it, 70-year-old Percy Darling, who has been widowed for many years, journeys to The Great Outdoorsman to purchase a bathing suit–a preschool is opening in the barn in his backyard, and he can no longer swim in his pond in the nude. A sales clerk is helping him make his decision. Read the scene below, then tell us: What are you reading today? Will you look for The Widower’s Tale?
“Hmm,” she said. “The pink pineapples would be a daring choice. You would turn heads in that one. . . . The hula girls are actually more conventional.”
I noticed that the pink pineapples (depicted on an aqua background) were indeed quite gaudy but ornamented a suit with a longer cut. Perhaps it would seem irrational to make the demure choice after having swum buck naked for so long, yet such was my preference. “Daring it shall be,” I concluded.
“You won’t regret it.” My handmaiden held out her hand, and I extended mine to shake it. But she was merely reaching for the hangers.
“Silly me,” I said when our hands collided awkwardly. “I thought I was to receive your congratulations. I will have you know that this is the first swimsuit I have purchased since I was in college.”
“Well then, I’m glad you’re headed back to the water,” she said.
I was about to explain my situation to her when I stopped myself. I laughed and shook my head.
“What’s so amusing?” she said.
“I’m having one of those—what youngsters so blithely call ‘a senior moment.’ I thank you for your cordial assistance.”
“A genuine pleasure,” she said, and she seemed to mean it.
At the cash register, I counted out exact change and told her I didn’t need a bag. I also remarked that I had not noticed her working there before.
“I started last month,” she said, “and I’m just part-time.”
“Well, I hope to solicit your sartorial discretion in the future.”
“What a charming thing to say.”
“Likewise,” I told her. “There is a dearth of compliments in the world these days.”