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A Widow for One Year  
Widow for 1yr.jpg
Paperback cover
Author John Irving
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Fiction
Publisher Random House
Publication date May 5, 1998
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 537 pp
ISBN ISBN 0375501371 (1st ed hardcover)
OCLC Number 37955786
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 21
LC Classification PS3559.R8 W53 1998
Preceded by A Son of the Circus
Followed by The Fourth Hand

A Widow for One Year is a 1998 bestselling novel by John Irving.

The first section of the novel was made into the movie The Door in the Floor in 2004.




First section

In the opening section of the book, the year is 1958 and Ruth Cole is four years old. Although she is a loved child, her parents do not have a happy marriage. Her two older brothers had died four years ago in a car accident, and she is constantly reminded of their presence from the pictures of their childhood hanging on the walls of the Cole family home. Ruth's father, Ted Cole, writes successful children's books, and hires Eddie O'Hare, a teenager who attends Phillips Exeter Academy, the same school as Ruth's two late brothers, to work as his assistant for the summer. Eddie is unwittingly drawn into a plot orchestrated by Ted to drive his unhappy wife, Marion, to infidelity. Marion, unable to forget her dead sons, shows little affection to her daughter. Ted has always conducted extramarital affairs and would likely lose in a custody battle for Ruth in divorce court. If Marion had an affair, he feels that this would strengthen the case for custody to be awarded to him. Ted picks Eddie specifically to tempt Marion, since he bears a striking resemblance to his two dead sons. Eddie and Marion's affair leads to Marion's disappearance at the end of the summer.

Second section

It is 1990 and Ruth is thirty-six. She is in Europe, dealing with the failures of her love life as she herself becomes a successful writer. Ruth is doing research on prostitutes in Amsterdam's red light district, and finds herself hiding in a closet while she observes the murder of a prostitute by the prostitute's client. She makes note of certain details of the murder which, in the future, lead to the murderer's arrest. Having solved the murder case, the detective is left with the identity of the mysterious "witness" unknown.

Third section

Ruth is now forty-one, has a son, and is about to fall in love for the first time. This section covers Ruth's brief widowhood ("A Widow for One Year" is a literal description of Ruth's situation as well as a quote from one of her novels). The detective, who solved the murder case that Ruth witnessed four years before, is now able to discover the witness' true identity. Because Ruth included details of the victim's room in her novel, and because the detective happened to be a fan of Ruth Cole's work, he was able to identify his witness. Ruth discovers that the murder was solved and the murderer caught. In the course of her meeting with the detective, he and Ruth fall in love, and after a whirlwind romance in Paris (the next stop on Ruth's book tour) he agrees to follow Ruth to Vermont where they marry. Eddie O'Hare and Ruth, unexpectedly, re-unite with Marion.They end up living happily in Vermont.

Cultural references

  • In a theme common to many Irving novels, Eddie is the son of a teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy. He grows up on the campus, and subsequently attends secondary school there.
  • Ruth is a fan of Graham Greene (she even names her son "Graham" after him), and in the novel reads The Life of Graham Greene by Norman Sherry.
  • When Ruth marries for the first time, Eddie reads the passage about marriage from George Eliot's novel Adam Bede.
  • At Allan's memorial service Eddie reads the poem "When you are old" from William Butler Yeats.
  • When Harry marries Ruth, he reads Yeats' poem "He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven".
  • One of the children's books that Ted Cole writes, A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound, has become a real children's novel with illustrations by Tatjana Hauptmann.

External links


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