Often a movie will lead me to the book it is based on. This happened when I saw Door in the Floor (2004). It was based on John Irving’s novel, A Widow for One Year (1998). As usual, one should never judge a book by its movie. The movie was good–actually very good–but the novel, which I read this week, was fantastic. The Ballantine edition had an excellent reader’s guide with an interview from which I gained insights into fiction writing. In the study guide’s interview, Henry Ginsberg points out that Irving is known to be a defender of the nineteenth century novel. When I noticed the Table of Contents and the titled chapters, I thought about how I like that 19th Century technique. It’s a stylistic tool that works well for me as a reader. I probably overuse epigraphs for my chapters, which I think would have the same effect as a good chapter title.
This was a novel with fiction writers as characters. Irving’s character constructs are powerful and part of what makes the novel’s plot work so well. I do believe that if you are a writer, this novel will inspire, rattle, and perhaps terrify you a bit as Irving takes you deep into the lives, styles, and souls of these writers.
The numerous themes of the novel are evocative and intense. The study guide’s questions are excellent writing and discussion prompts on marriage, humiliation, the writer and writing, change, and photographs as symbols and talismans.
Here are just a few of my favorite quotations that I underlined:
“It was the sound of a typewriter–the sound of storytelling” (19)
“He used to say that darkness was his (Ted Cole’s) favorite color” ( 21)
“Brave means that you accept what happens to you–you just try to make the best of it” 130).
“There are few things as seemingly untouched by the real world as a child asleep” (151)
“But one must never not write a certain kind of novel out of fear of what the reaction will be” (318)
“[H]e wasn’t a bad boy–just an ordinary one” (377)
“If you’re a writer, the problem is that when you try to call a halt to thinking about your novel-in-progress, your imagination still keeps going; you can’t shut it off” (380)
“It was for children that one wanted heaven . . .” (456)
John Irving’s official site is here: