The Widower's Tale is another winnner from author Julia Glass, the author of Three Junes, The Whole World Over and I See You Everywhere. Glass once again turns to the delicate and complicated relationship of families as the subject of this novel. The main character of The Widowers Tale is Percival (Percy) Darling (what a name, right?) a 60-something retired Harvard librarian who is a cranky, odd New Englander. His wife passed away many years ago, leaving him on his own to raise his two young daughters. Although he is very much a part of his adult daughters' lives, his relationship with both of them is fraught under the surface with unsaid things stemming from their mother's death. As the novel begins, Percy has just opened up an old Barn his beautiful property by a pond in a leafy/wealthy/sort of rural suburb of Boston to the local pre-school. The opening of this pre-school sets in motion a series of events that causes trauma to both Percy and his entire family. More about the book and this classic after the jump.
In The Widower's Tale, Julia Glass not only creates interesting characters, she also creates a very recognizable world in which her characters live. One the ways she does this here is by telling the story of the perspectives of very different people - we have Percy, the older waspy New England liberal. His love for his old creaky house and disdain for the new money that has taken over his wealthy suburb is a real "type" in New England. For these types, it is OK to live an exclusive and expensive place when you are not so showy about it, and to be fair, Percy and his wife were not rolling in dough - he was a librarian and she taught dance classes. But there is no question their life of privilege enabled them to live in the desirable Matlock. The story is also told from the perspective of Ira - a gay man who teaches at the school that takes over Percy's barn (Elves and Fairies). Elves and Fairies (could the name be any more precious) is a thoroughly modern pre-school where the children are treated like kings, encouraged to express their creativity and generally exalted. Ira lives in a town nearby which is much rougher than Matlock but is gentrifying, creating a mix of the urban poor and the urban hipster. Ira is somewhat uncomfortable in his own skin, but loves his job as a teacher and along with the two other characters whose perspective shapes thebook, helps the children build a fanciful tree house in Percy's favorite tree. Next up is Celestino, a Central American laborer who works for the landscaping company that handles the lawns of Matlock residents. At first it is easy to put Celestino in a stereotypical box, but his story is very complicated. He came to the Boston area as a teenager, the guest of an egotistical Harvard archeologist who sponsors his studies in the U.S. after Celestino and his father helped the Professor during his archeological digs in Celestino's village. Celestino attends high school in the U.S. then returns to attend Harvard, living with the family. Inevitably he falls in love with the Professor's daughter, is caught in a comprimising position, and is thrown out of the house. He runs away to NY, returning several years later to Matlock and despite his education works as a landscaper, one of a large team of Central American laborers who work for a local Matlock man. From Celestino's and Ira's perspective we see Matlock through the eyes of an outsider. Lastly, the story is told from the perspective of Percy's grandson Robert - an affable, intelligent Harvard student. Percy and Robert are very close and their relationship with each other make both of the characters more likable. It is interesting that Glass, a woman, writes the book from the perspective of four male characters. I found the female characters less likable and interesting - perhaps because we only see them through male eyes. Percy's two daughters - Trudy and Clover, are difficult in their own ways - Trudy is a hyper capable oncologist - the most sought after in the Boston area, but she is cold with her family and too efficient. She also clearly blames her father for her mother's death. Clover is the opposite - a mess, she had some sort of breakdown and ran away from her husband and two kids in NY and came to live in Matlock without much purpose. She gets a job with Elves and Fairies and this is why Percy lets the school use his barn - to give his daughter what she wants. The other main female character is Sarah, a somewhat older single mother of a student at Elves and Fairies. Percy meets her when he is buying some swing trucks (he previously swam in the nude every day, but with the school on his property he had to get some trunks), and they eventually fall in love and start dating. Sarah is also a type - she adopted her son on her own from Central America, is an artist living in a loft in a converted mill building. I really felt like I knew all of the characters or someone like them. Percy has not dated since his wife dies so falling in love with Sarah was life changing for him. Also part of the mix here is Robert's charistmatic roommmate, Arturo, who starts a secret environmental protest group that plays funny pranks around the town of Matlock (e.g. stying a bunch of bicycles around a person's SUV and painting on the dash - pedals not petrol, breaking into people's houses to change all the lightbulbs to environomentally friendly ones). No one but Robert knows that Arturo is the man behind this group (called the DOGS). Initially Robert stays away from Arturo's activities - Robert is at his core, a good boy (this is how his grandfather describes him), but eventually he starts participating and gets in over his head. This serves as the crescendo of the book and again shows how great the relationship between Percy and Robert is. So, now why did I decide to make scallops wrapped in bacon for this book? It came from a quote in the book from Percy's deceased wife Poppy. We get to know Poppy through Percy's remiscence of her - her presence is overwhelming in his house, to some extent it seems like he stopped living part of his life when she passed. When Percy is dealing with his daughters or a difficult situation he thinks to himself "Oh, Poppy" - even 20 years after her death she is still in Percy's head. The scallop came from something Poppy said to Percy at the beginning of their marriage. They are talking about their plans - for the present, and for when they retire (they will drop everything and join the Peace Corps). Percy tells Poppy that he worries about “the stuff in the middle” – the middle part of the marriage. Poppy says “the middle is where the filling is, the jam, the custard, the cornmeal stuffing. The scallop inside the bacon.” Meaning - the middle is the good stuff, the substance, the important part of the story, of our lives – not the drama of the beginning and the end, but the real stuff – that is what happens in the middle. I liked that sentiment - finding the sweet and special in the every day with someone. This book has a lot to offer - a satirical portrait of today's world (at least in a wealthy Northeast metropolis), an engaging plot, and some real heart. Highly recommend.
Maple Bacon Wrapped Scallops
Not much of a recipe needed here. Take some sea scallops, wrap them in bacon and then brush with maple syrup. I broiled these for about 3 minutes a side. If you like your bacon super crisp, may be worth it to precook it a couple of minutes in a fry pan before wrapping the scallops. I secured these with a skewer, not a good idea if you have a gas broiler, which I don't. Use something metal in that case.