The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

John Irving’s characters always emerge as distinctive individuals. They are stronger than the sometimes weak and meandering plot, which gains its momentum from their personalities and actions. Thus action more than description defines the characters in A Widow for One Year. In fact, physical details are scarce, and the reader may find it difficult to picture the characters. The theme also emanates from the characters, who in this novel either reveal what it is like to be a writer or to be a writer’s friend or relative—and what it is like to engage in a search for love in one form or another. When Ruth is asked where she gets the ideas for her novels, she replies that her books do not have ideas, that she has no ideas, but that she begins with the characters, and from them the ideas flow. So it is with Irving’s fiction.

Ruth, whose childhood had been such a nightmare and whose sexuality was suppressed, discovers and reveals herself through the fiction she creates. Appearing stubborn and willful at times, self-centered and self-absorbed at other points, she does prevail as the artist who is determined to get at the truth of life—both in her writing and in her own experience. Irrevocably affected by his teenage affair with an older woman, Eddie behaves consistently throughout, showing a lack of confidence and an inability to handle his life in a mature fashion. That he fails as a novelist results in large part from his stunted emotional...

(The entire section is 483 words.)