Elegy for Raymond
A renowned author finds that art is poor consolation in a time of crippling grief
A Widow's Story:
by Joyce Carol Oates
$25.99 List Price
In early 2008, Joyce Carol Oates gave a talk called “The Writer’s (Secret) Life: Woundedness, Rejection, and Inspiration,” about how writers go about transmuting painful life experiences into art. At the heart of her speech was a quote from Hemingway, which Oates found so profound that she cited it twice. “From things that have happened . . . and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality,” he wrote. “That is why you write and for no other reason.”
When Oates delivered her remarks, only two weeks had passed since the death of Raymond Smith, her husband of forty-seven years. Her astonishing new memoir, A Widow’s Story, describes her own transformation, not through art but through pain, from wife into widow. Her book is revelatory—though not for what it shows about the inspiration this artist derives from her woundedness, which turns out to be less than she had expected. It is remarkable, rather, for how candidly Oates explores the writer’s secret life: the private world of her marriage, which—in contrast to Hemingway—she asserts is far truer and more real, and of far greater importance, than any of her imaginary creations.
Oates and Smith seem to have had a marriage of extraordinary closeness. They met in October 1960, as graduate students at the University of Wisconsin, and were married only three months later. She was then twenty-two and much in