The Widower's Tale: Q&A with Julia Glass
The four men in this book have very different stories -- a retired Harvard librarian, a gay preschool teacher, an immigrant landscaper, and a college student (to describe them in the most reductive way). Which was the most difficult to write? Which did you most enjoy?
Oh, I loved writing Percy most of all by far. His voice was so distinctive, so clear to me, and as I said earlier, I agree with so many of his opinions. Let's say I'm completely sympathetic with his chronic grandiosity! And I hoped to capture, in his voice, just a bit of my father's inimitably dry sense of humor -- though my dad is very different from Percy, much more circumspect and forgiving. By contrast, the most difficult point of view for me was Robert's. I do not have college-age people in my everyday life, and I had to do a bit of "research" on campus at Harvard -- along with some eavesdropping at the home of a friend with three late-teenage sons -- to help me enter that world. Originally, I thought Celestino would be the hardest to capture, but once I understood him as a man with a crippling obsession (not unlike Percy), he came alive for me.
The Widower's Tale also very much explores what it is to be a parent. What is different about looking at this role from a male perspective? And how did your own experiences as a parent -- I know you're the mother of two sons -- inform your portrait of the various mothers in the book?
Well, Percy is the central parent in the book, and in a way, you could see him as a father who, after his wife's death, is determined to become more like a mother to their daughters. (That's a large part of why he never remarries.) Can a man do that? Yes, and no. He can do almost everything she would have done, but he can't replace her. So much of the difficulty he has with his daughters as adults stems from his having tried to fill the shoes of the parent they lost -- and unconsciously resenting them for his failure to do that. As for Clover and Trudy, I was initially interested in how two sisters might turn out to be such different mothers, but ultimately I gave very little attention to that angle. What drew me more was exploring how Robert begins to see his mother as he approaches adulthood. He sees her more fully as a daughter and a wife, also as a woman with disappointments and shortcomings, not just as the good-mom-and-virtuous-doctor he portrays in his college application essay. I am eternally fascinated by the way parent-child relationships evolve once children move away from home and establish independent lives. My own experience of motherhood isn't really reflected here; in fact, that part of my personal life looms much larger in my second novel, The Whole World Over. I also wonder now if I gave less attention to Trudy and Clover's relationship in The Widower's Tale because I had just explored sisterhood so intensively in my third book, I See You Everywhere.