Feature

Author of the week: Joyce Carol Oates

The author's new memoir, A Widow’s Story, is about the loss of her husband and how his death has altered her views of him and their marriage.

Joyce Carol Oates and her late husband, Raymond Smith, “were rarely apart” for the past five decades, said The Economist. They met as graduate students in 1960 in Madison, Wis. Oates was instantly smitten with Smith, who was eight years her senior. “He seemed to me wonderfully poised, informed,” she says. Married three months after meeting, they eventually settled in Princeton, N.J., where she became a professor and he editor of the Ontario Review. For 47 years, things went smoothly, until Smith contracted pneumonia in 2008 and was hospitalized. He died suddenly one night before Oates could reach him. “I was not with him, to comfort him or hold him,” she writes sorrowfully in her new memoir, A Widow’s Story.

The loss led to a series of shocks, said Hillel Italie in the Associated Press. Going through Smith’s things, Oates discovered a novel he was writing but never mentioned. In that project’s notes, he wrote of spending time in a sanitarium, where he’d fallen for a fellow resident; a psychiatrist had told him he was “love-starved.” “He hadn’t told me!” says Oates. “He’d been ‘love-starved,’—someone else had provided that love.” Now Oates wonders how well she truly knew her husband, and regrets how his death has altered her views of him and their marriage. “I am no longer convinced that there is any inherent value in grief,” she writes. “If there is, if wisdom springs from the experience of a terrible loss, it’s a wisdom one might do without.”

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