Study Guide

A Widow for One Year

by John Irving

A Widow for One Year Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

A Widow for One Year covers thirty-seven years in the life of Ruth Cole, a renowned novelist. Divided into three parts, the novel focuses first on the parents of four-year-old Ruth. Because of the deaths of their teenaged sons, Marion and Ted are a dysfunctional couple living apart but sharing custody of their young daughter.

Ted, a seducer of young mothers who pose for him, hires Eddie, a sixteen-year-old aspiring writer, as a chauffeur. An affair between Marion and Eddie ensues and continues throughout the summer. Finally, Marion leaves and is not heard from for thirty-seven years. Before departing, Marion confesses to Eddie, “I won’t be a bad mother to Ruth. . . . I would rather be no mother than a bad one.”

Ruth’s story continues thirty years later. She is a highly successful novelist, and her personal life revolves around her best friend, Hannah, a journalist; her childhood acquaintance Eddie; her father; and a few unsatisfying affairs. While researching an idea for a new novel, Ruth witnesses the brutal murder of a prostitute in Amsterdam. Anonymously, she sends an eyewitness account of the event to Harry, a Dutch policeman.

Ted commits suicide in his squash court, which has “a door in the floor.” (In 2004, a film by this name depicted the triangle of Marion, Ted, and Eddie.)

After the death of her first husband, Ruth returns to her book tours and meets, falls in love with,...

(The entire section is 519 words.)

A Widow for One Year Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

A Widow for One Year focuses on writers as it tells a sprawling story that covers nearly forty years. The novel introduces numerous characters, each one well drawn and memorable, and effectively relates a variety of events, often in a comic manner. Yet its main narrative thrust lies in the way writers develop, the private and public lives they lead, the methods they employ, the reasons they write, the material they use, and the success they gain. Told in the omnisicient third person, the novel opens in 1958 when sixteen-year-old Eddie O’Hare enters the dysfunctional Cole household on Long Island as an assistant to Ted Cole, a much-admired writer and illustrator of children’s books. His distraught wife Marion, a strikingly beautiful woman, continues to grieve over the deaths in an automobile accident of their two teenaged sons. The parents, who were in the back seat of the car, escaped the crash physically unhurt but emotionally devastated. Weary of his wife’s obsessive behavior, Ted handles his anguish with alcohol and womanizing. Their four-year-old daughter Ruth lives in an overprotected and sometimes chaotic environment amid memories of her dead brothers, whose pictures line the walls of the house. As the summer passes, Eddie and Marion engage in a tempestuous sexual affair, which affects Eddie for the rest of his life and provides Marion with an opportunity to escape both her cruel, philandering husband and her daughter, whom she is afraid to love lest she too might be lost. At summer’s end, Eddie returns to his exclusive private school, where his father is an English...

(The entire section is 649 words.)