Sunday, June 12, 2016

Book Review: "The Young Widower's Handbook" by Tom McAllister

"You don't fall in love, like some people do, with the idea of being in love, but rather with her, specifically, and only her. Throughout high school and college, you were an extra in the movies of other people's lives, never better than the fourth most charismatic person in any group; your role was to be the designated driver and to occasionally deliver a sarcastic one-liner that your friends could later repeat and claim as their own. And yet when you speak, she listens."

Hunter Cady was utterly, completely in love with his wife, Kait. Sure, they had their disagreements, times when each wanted something different from their relationship and each other. Kait was occasionally frustrated at Hunter's lack of motivation career-wise, and his ability to see anything through to completion. Hunter wished Kait was more forthcoming about her past, and didn't understand why she got so anxious sometimes, and so depressed on other occasions. He was always there for her; why wasn't that enough?

But Hunter is totally unprepared when Kait dies suddenly one night. How could she die, when it seemed like just another day? How could he be a widower at age 29? What about all of the plans they had, the promises that one day they'd save enough money to travel to all of the places they had dreamed of? They were supposed to grow old together.

" fall in love with something intangible, the hollowness like devastating hunger when she's gone, the sense of safety she engenders, as if her presence alone will protect you from the terrors of the real world."

Hunter becomes completely despondent. His hippie mother tries to help, his corporate-minded father tries to snap him back to reality, and Kait's family, who never really liked him anyway, tries to bully him into giving them Kait's ashes. He doesn't know what to do, but he knows that his life won't be the same, and he can't go on pretending it is. He sets off on a cross-country journey with Kait's ashes, to try and better understand the woman to whom he was married, and what shape his life is going to take now that she's gone.

Along the way, he has some strange encounters with Renaissance Faire employees, bachelorette party celebrants, a long-married couple with a parrot named Elvis, and an older man still longing for his wife, who disappeared a number of years ago. And as he chronicles his journey, and deals with the reactions of those back home, Hunter reflects on his and Kait's relationship, and how while she made him believe he could be a better man than he ever was, he gave her comfort and security and love, even without the grand romantic gestures and the big trips she might have wanted.

As you'd imagine from the title, this book is a bittersweet, moving portrait of a man struggling to cope with an unfathomable loss and seeking the strength to move on. It's also funny, sarcastic, and reflective, as Hunter realizes all the factors that go into a successful relationship. There are parts of the book that are sad, yes, but this is not the sob-fest I expected it to be, which made me happy.

I really enjoyed this book, and was absolutely wowed at times by Tom McAllister's storytelling ability. I thought Hunter's road trip went on a bit too long, and I couldn't honestly believe the behavior of Kait's family, but I can't get this book out of my mind, and I can't stop wondering what happened to Hunter next. Really lovely book.

NetGalley and Algonquin Books provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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