The Widower's Tale: Q&A with Julia Glass

We talk to the author about small-town living, writing like a man, and what she's working on next.
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Your observations of life in Matlock, where the widower of the title, Percy, lives, are so vivid and acutely observed -- as well as extraordinarily witty. I know that a few years ago you and your family relocated from New York City to the small(ish) Massachusetts town where you grew up. Do you think you could have written this particular book if you still lived in New York?

The Widower's Tale grew directly out of my reaction to living for one year, as a grown-up, in my childhood town. My parents still live in the house they bought when I was 9, so I'd been visiting often during the 24 years I lived in New York City. Becoming a resident, however, gave me an entirely new vision of how the place had changed. I found myself feeling absurdly indignant about the changes I saw, as if someone ought to have asked my permission to alter this place so sacred to my memory. Of course, I was learning firsthand that you can never "go back." But I also recognized in myself a growing resistance to change of all kinds, and that's what inspired the character of Percy Darling. So no, I could not have written this book had I still been living in New York. Yet it's also true that my deeply rooted love of my hometown and of certain qualities it will always hold for me (its luxurious greenness, its Yankee history) has been with me for most of my life, even defined what I think of as "home." I suspect it was waiting inside me, all those years, for just the right story to come along.

The characters in The Widower's Tale have incredibly rich backstories and personalities. Was any of it inspired by your life? Where do you most appear in the book?

Seen purely in terms of personality, Percy Darling is as much like me as almost any character I've created. In a nutshell, he's my inner curmudgeon given free rein. I'll even confess that some of the preachier passages in his voice -- for instance, his outrage at the current state of libraries -- are fine-tuned versions of diatribes that my closest friends have heard me deliver at dinner parties (and still they love me!). But his childhood, career, and marriage, and his relationship with his children, are definitely not mine. And I could only wish I were so eloquent and arch when out and about in the world. In social situations where I would be tongue-tied, he almost always has the perfect comeback.

A technique you've used before, notably in Three Junes, is to tell the story from a male point of view -- in this case, four of them. But only Percy's is in the first person; the other three are told in third-person. Can you tell us how and why you made this technical choice? Were you ever tempted to tell part of the story from one of your female character's point of view?

I actually used this technique in Three Junes as well, where a male character's point of view is the only one rendered in first person. In both novels, I want the reader to feel more intimately connected to these protagonists than to any of the other major characters. When I started The Widower's Tale, I thought that one secondary point of view would be that of Trudy, Percy's daughter, who's become a successful physician. I'm fascinated by medicine and often wish I'd had the necessary emotional control to become a doctor, so I was eager to delve into that world. But before I even began to play with Trudy's perspective, I realized that Percy's story is largely about how the absence of a woman has influenced so much of his destiny. That's also true for Celestino. I knew then that a female point of view would dilute the power of the narrative as a whole. How men live both with and without women became a theme weaving in and out of the entire novel.

Continued on page 2:  Writing Men

 

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