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When I first saw this book on amazon, I only looked in to it because of the good reviews. I was confused as the front cover connotates a typical crime/thriller novel, with it's dark colours and scratchy font. However, when I read the blurb, I realised it is more of a chick-lit type.
After reading this book, I would say I was wrong. This book is NOT chick-lit. It is definitely not a book written purely for women, and although there is some aspect of romance, there is a mix of dark humour and drama also.
Doug is a 29 year old widower, something he never imagined himself being. Following a tragic plane crash which killed his wife, Doug is left with nothing but self pity, grief, a home in the suburbs and a very rebellious 16 year old step son who is angry at Doug for not adopting him. This novel follows Doug on his path to recovery; from drowning himself in Jack Daniels, to finally realising there is life after Hailey.
Along the way we get to meet Doug's rather eccentric family, who all expect Doug to have ended his grieving by now; it is 12 months later after all. Doug doesn't feel ready and tries to shut himself off from his family, until Claire turns up at his door and needs a place to live after splitting up from her husband. The relationship between Claire and Doug is both funny and touching, as she tries desperately to get him back on the dating scene again.
A good chunk of this book is full of moaning and self pity, much of which gives the reader a good insight in to the deep thoughts which go through someone's mind in this situation. Although deeply depressing, it also has very witty and humorous moments. However, the depression continues for almost half the book... About half way through I was beginning to have doubts about whether Doug was ever going to start living life again, and the incessant depressing moaning was beginning to grate. However, there is certainly a turn in the book where I felt that it became a story again, and although some bits were OTT and dramatic, it added to the book nonetheless. For example, a certain encounter with Laney's husband, the married woman Doug had sex with.
This book is a strange mix of drama, grief and comedy. It was very easy to read and I read it quickly. It played out very much like a film, although I couldn't decide who would be perfect as Doug. I felt that this book could have been longer, as it seemed to cut off at the end, and the last page was just full blown cheesy, which doesn't really suit the rest of the book. It feels as though this book was written with the intention of it being a film, and therefore Tropper kept any sort of depth to a minimum. I did feel huge amounts of empathy for Doug, and fell in love with both Claire and their father, but there is so much room for character development which Tropper just didn't really go in to.
I really enjoyed this book and will be looking out for further Jonathan Tropper books in the future.
After his wife Hailey dies in a plane crash, Doug Parker's life is understandably shattered. The twenty-nine-year-old writer finds himself with a troubled teenage stepson, and an ample helping of self-pity. Doug is a wreck of a man, frequently sitting and throwing things at the rabbits who play on his front lawn, unable to face the real world without consuming large quantities of Jack Daniels.
Luckily for Doug, he has a supportive (although dysfunctional) family around him to drag him through the bad times - and it's these bad times which are explored in 'How to talk to a Widower', the debut novel from Jonathan Tropper.
Although it has a title which suggests it could fit into the sub-genre of 'chick-lit', in reality, How to Talk to a Widower is anything but - it's a darkly comedic journey which explores a range of human emotions. In places the novel can be emotionally hard going, and I found the first five or six chapters to be rather depressing - Doug constantly wallows in self-pity, and doesn't do anything to help himself. That said, as the chapters progress, the light at the end of the tunnel draws closer, and by the end of the book, I felt like it was me who had gone through (and emerged from) the emotional turmoil which was described amongst the pages.
Although it has an emotional subject matter, the book is very funny in places - but yes, at times it can be a little difficult to extract the humour from the morbid text which surrounds it. A lot of the comedy comes from the nuances of the characters who are an entertaining bunch to say the least! Tropper has given each one enough back story to make them believable, and this goes some way to ensuring Doug's world feels fully fleshed out and authentic.
Doug's stepson 'Russ' is angry with him for not wanting to adopt him, and 'Claire', Doug's pregnant sister, has left her husband and moved in with him. Whilst all this is going on, other sister Debbie is planning a perfect wedding, which, with the mental state of her family, is unlikely to happen. It all sounds like the events which would unfold in a mundane soap-opera - but throw in the occasional use of drugs, sex and shootings, and the end result is a spicy concoction.
The writing style of the author makes for a very easy read, and actually, the cinematic way in which events are described would probably suit a filmic adaptation very nicely.
In the end, I found How to Talk to a Widower to be an uplifting and well written book which makes for a very worthwhile read. The first five or six chapters could be construed as being a little depressing, but stick with the story and in the end you'll be rewarded.
You can purchase How to Talk to a Widower for £5.49 from Amazon.
I'd heard about this book a while ago but only got a copy before my holidays. £2 from FOPP!. Excelent value. As it's more of a touchy feely book I bought wih a 1974, part of the Red Riding series. Typical male I hear you say. Not really I have a vested interest. I am step Dad to two cracking kids, one about Russ's age and me not far from Doug's age. Thankfully my wife is alive and well but I reckoned this book would provide a humourous take on step parenting.
The book is exceptionally easy to read. it is not written for a child, it's just brutally honest and had me laughing out loud and retelling the stories several times. When it comes to it: the wedding rehearsal dinner is hilarious, specifically the speach made by Russ. The incident in the car park right after is equally as funny as is the wedding.
Russ's tattoo in memory of his mum will bring a tear to your eye and you groan in recognition as Doug's sister tries to sort her brother out by moving in when she is pregant and has fallen out with her husband. Incidently, the fight in the front yard is very funny.
The bond between step son and step dad is clealy defined. And it works well. All the step son wants is to stay with Doug, All Doug wants is the step son to stay with him. The step Dad/son reverses here as it's Russ who shows the intiative.
There are many other funny elements to this book, but the writer brings you back with a bump with the history of Haley and Doug. The disfunctional family is something you can't help but recognise and applaud someone for capturing it so well.
All in the book, was a bargian and can still be bought as cheap. it's one of thse pick up, put down and pick up as soon as you can books. If you have a spare weekend you will get through it easily. It is not sentimental and never forgets that readers need to laugh and cry to experience a full range of emotions.
And yes ladies, there are some good men out there, not just in the pages of a book. One chik-lit read I would reccomenf to anyone with even 1/2 a heart.
The best way to sum up Jonathan Tropper's novel "How to Talk to a Widower" is to paraphrase a recurring statement from this book. That is: "Doug Parker had a wife. Her name was Hailey. Now she's gone. And so is he." You see, Doug married Hailey - a divorcee 10 years his senior with a teenaged son Russ whose father is busy with his new trophy wife. Two years after they were married, Hailey died in a plane crash, leaving Doug her home in the suburbs, her angry son who doesn't want to live with his father, a large settlement from the airline and Doug's life in a shambles. But that was a year ago, and that means its time to move on, or so his family seems to think. The question is, how can he?
From this summary, you might be thinking that this is going to be an angst-ridden drama filled with tears, longing and heartbreak. However, it may surprise you that this is actually a very funny book in many places. In order to keep this light, Tropper investigates all the idiotic things that someone in Doug's position might actually do. Using humour in this story may seem slightly out of place but Tropper has made Doug into a columnist who has hijacked his column "How to Talk to a Celebrity" and turned it into his own platform for "unleashing rapid-fire bursts of raw, unadulterated pain", or what he calls his "emotional Tourette's", and there we get the book's title. Again, this might seem pretty heavy, but Tropper deals with this pain with such honesty that one can't help but feel how absolutely human and realistic Doug has been written. If for nothing else, I'd urge you to read this book for Tropper's perfect character development of Doug throughout this story.
But Tropper doesn't stop with Doug. He also brings in Doug's less than perfect family - his ex-actress mother, senile father, twin sister Claire and younger sister Deborah - into the mix as well. And then there's Russ, Doug's step-son and his relationship with his father and step-mother (and, occasionally, the law and other authorities). Plus we have the overly friendly (read: horny) neighbour Mrs. Laney Potter (still married) and Russ's school guidance councilor Brooke Hayes. Finally, we have Doug's literary agent whose only aim is to turn Doug's suddenly popular column into a book. Each of these people get real-life faces and have their own problems so when they interact with Doug they aren't always focussed on just his problems. While this may seem like soap-opera fodder, we also realize that this is exactly how the world is.
Of course, this is primarily Doug's story, and since we see through his eyes how he copes with mourning Hailey, the reader understands this fully when we get his own myopic view of his world. Tropper keeps his eye on this throughout the book by writing it mostly in first person with Doug as the narrator. I say mostly because there are a few occasions when we get some third person glimpses at the action, but these don't detract from this story being a very personal one. Making Doug into a writer also means that Tropper can give his protagonist as much of his own writing ability, so that the language in this book sometimes borders on the poetic, without ever feeling bombastic. We are also treated to the inclusion of two of Doug's columns where we get to see just what his literary agent is so excited about. This also furthers the agent's part in the story, and allows Tropper to show this relationship by giving us some of the emails that go back and fourth between them. Through these literary mechanisms, we are kept on our toes and this contributes to the pure readability of this novel and like-ability of the characters. In addition, Tropper's insertions of the background of this story are so subtlety placed throughout this story that we never get bogged down with long, boring explanations.
I have to add that there's something very touching about everything Doug and the people in his life are going through. For instance, Doug describes himself as being "young, slim, sad and beautiful" and because of this "anything can happen". As hopeful as this seems, Doug also realizes that this tag line applies to not only himself, and there is a realization that the "anything" that can happen might not always be a positive thing. I think that it is this duality that makes this book such an engrossing read. Couple this with the humour and honesty Tropper brings is probably the reason why, for the first time in a very long time, at one point in the story, I actually had tears in my eyes. Still, I can't impress upon you enough that Tropper makes sure that nothing gets too sentimental, and he does this by pointing up these character's multiple faults and playing on how seemingly absurd they are, while still allowing them to be totally human and sometimes infuriating.
After reading all this, I'm worried that I haven't been able to impart upon you just how lovely this book is. Tropper has proven to me that he is a master at character development, and if you've read any of my other book reviews, you'll know that I believe character-driven books are far more interesting than plot-driven ones. Tropper uses first person to make us connect with his protagonist on a very emotional level, but also includes other literary devices to keep this from becoming monotone. Add to this the injections of human comedy onto the result of a human tragedy is what keeps this story from becoming maudlin. To top it all off, Tropper concludes this book with such perfect aplomb that I have grave fears that if Paramount ever picks up their option to make this into a movie, they'll overdo it and ruin the whole thing. So before that happens, I highly recommend that you read this book, and soon. Of course, I'm giving it a full five stars - how could I do otherwise after all that?
Thanks for reading!
Davida Chazan © March, 2008
Available to buy new from Amazon for £4.89 or through their marketplace from 1p.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Orion (28 Jun 2007)
You might also want to visit Jonathan Tropper's web site which can be found at http://www.jonathantropper.com/ (of course).
Whilst I would not describe myself as mean, I do like a good bargain and when I saw that I could buy Jonathan Tropper's "How to talk to a Widower" for only £1.99 if I spent over £10.00 I pounced. I picked up the book and gave the back cover blurb a cursory skim but if the truth be told, I could not remember anything about it by the time I got home. I have been pleasantly surprised by other books I have chosen from those books selected for "Richard and Judy's Summer Reads" and so I suspected I would not be disappointed. However, the book sat for some weeks in the middle of a precarious tower of reading yet to be done, the moment never seemed right for a book that sounded to me quite heavy and serious.
The story is very simple: writer Doug Parker finds his perfect life turned upside down when Hailey, his wife of three years, is killed in an aeroplane crash. One year on and Doug's family and friends agree that it's time for them to pull Doug out of his depression and get his life back on track. But with a senile father who liked to play ball naked in the garden, a teenage stepson who is going off the rails and a married neighbour who is offering more than meatloaf and condolences, Doug finds that starting over isn't as easy as his twin sister Claire thinks.
To be honest the story is nothing special; in fact its pretty predictable. What makes "How to talk to a widower" such a great book is the writing. Tropper's prose flows beautifully and is almost poetic in parts and he has created in Doug a character it is hard not to empathise with. As far as I know the author hasn't experienced such a tragedy in his own life but he writes as if he speaks with personal knowledge. In talking about love and loss Doug doesn't say anything we haven't all heard or said ourselves but it is the way in which he says it that hooked me from the start.
Interspersed with the story are e-mails between Doug and his literary agent and some of the magazine articles Doug has written about his situation. In theory these are a good idea but I found that they lost some dramatic impact because they described things that had already been said in the course of the story proper. I would have preferred them to be insights offering something new rather than the repetitions they became.
The other characters are well-drawn and lively even if it is stretching the imagination a little to expect to find all of them in just one small family unit. I particularly liked the way that the author managed to bring the reader up to speed with all the characters in a quite subtle way without ever detracting from the central character. My favourite character was Doug's neurotic pill-popping mother who has no notion of discretion when discussing her own sex life with her children.
Although this book made me cry more than once, it also made me laugh a lot and the humour is quite dark at times: the scenes where Doug tries to exterminate the rabbits that dig up his lawn are hilarious. The most striking aspect however is the way Doug describes his grief and the reactions he has to how other people treat him and how they in turn are affected by Hailey's death. I am sure that people who have been through an experience like this will be able to identify with Doug, I know that I was certainly able to identify with the reaction of Doug's friends who never really knew how to behave or what to say.
One day soon - if the rights have not already been negotiated - I can see this being made into a film; all the necessary components for a movie along the lines of "Sleepless in Seattle" are there -romance, heartbreak, comedy, typical teens, tears. As it is, this is a book that will continue to enchant readers with a simple tale beautifully told.
The Waterstones offer no longer applies but this book is available from Amazon for £3.49