Widow


160 pages

Trade Paper

List Price US $14.95
ISBN: 9781934137307


Ebook

ISBN: 9781934137406




Share on Goodreads

“In prose shimmering with intelligence and compassion, Michelle Latiolais dissects the essentials of everyday life to find the heartbeat within. [Her work] reveals an author with that rare eye which is at once both clinical and poetic.”

Alice Sebold, author of The Almost Moon and The Lovely Bones

see more reviews hide reviews

“Pulse[s] with a surprising, offbeat erotic energy.”

Elle

“Bracing, exposed, ruthlessly mercurial . . . The writing thrums with aggression and a lush, rooted sensuality . . . the rewards here are enormous.”

New York Times Book Review

( link)

“Latiolais is as close to Alice Munro as a writer can get, but with a more modern edge to her tone, low graceful notes, not too much flash, perfect restraint and the feeling of contents under pressure.”

Los Angeles Times

( link)

“Sublime . . . [Latiolais] manages to find something luminous in the broken shards—still sharp, still drawing blood—that remain in the wake of losing what could not feasibly be lost.”

San Francisco Chronicle 

( link)

“The inveterate readers among you may be asking yourselves, do I read this book or Joyce Carol Oates’ book of stories about widows and her recent memoir about widowhood? And I say to you, read them all, but begin first with Michelle Latiolais.”

Alan Cheuse, NPR’s All Things Considered

( link)

“Latiolais writes about grief in such a raw way—she joins the general pantheon of No-More-Husband literature (high priestess: J-Did), but her style is so unique as to be another genre altogether.”

Rachel Syme @ The Millions

( link)

“This is an elegant book of stories, precise and glittering, like jewels. Latiolais writes exquisite, mandarin prose, in sentences you want to memorize.”

Roxana Robinson @ National Book Critics Circle’s Critical Mass

( link)

“Filled with an intensity of vision . . . Latiolais plunges courageously into odd territory, noticing and observing the felt life in precise and often beautiful language.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune

( link)

“There is poetry in Latiolais’s prose. Charged by memory and the frisson of association, these stories revel in the texture of words, their sounds, their vagaries, their betrayals. . . . offer[ing] pearls rough, mottled, shimmering.”

Los Angeles Review of Books

( link)

“Latiolais has a supple, sensitive way with words. . . . [Widow] celebrates the Geiger counter aspect of human consciousness that records and overwrites a deep document of self-reflection.”

OC Metro magazine

( link)

“A short story collection whose writing gives us pleasure in just being in the company of the writer.”

OC Weekly (Required Orange County Reading)

( link)

“For the intimate ways that it explores the recesses of grief with warmth, earthiness, and humor, Widow is the most emotionally resonant book I’ve read this year.”

Open Letters Monthly

( link)

“Excellent, heartbreaking . . . reading Widow was a profound experience. . . . [Latiolais] takes the ordinary and shows how it doesn’t exist. There is only the great mystery of the moments of our lives, which can at best turn into vivid memories. And after that? It is that afterlife, the after of all those mysterious, precious moments, that soaks this book. Death, something so final, still remains the unanswerable question that follows our lives, and Latiolias ponders this beautifully, painfully, honestly.”

Nervous Breakdown

( link)

“Latiolais is bold and frank, and utterly unsentimental. . . . Widow rivets our attention because it offers what all literature, tragic, comical or otherwise, should: a distillation of experience and a concentration of thought that invests a simple moment with all the profundity of existence itself.”

ZYZZYVA

( link)

“All is certainly not gloom and doom in these imaginative tales . . . Widow is an enjoyable read, especially since Latiolais is such an accomplished lover of the written word. Though the stories amply reflect the shattering and paralysing loss of widows, they are not depressing.”

Belletrista: Celebrating Women Writers from Around the World

( link)

“As humans face death – our own or our most beloved – the best writers have the ability to rise up and eloquently sing. I speak, of course, of Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, of Francisco Goldman in Say Her Name, of David Vann in Legend of a Suicide. And now, Michelle Latiolais takes her place in that very top tier of talented writers. . . . [Widow] positively pulsates with pain and beauty, with heartbreak and reverence, with alienation and survival. In short, it is stunning writing, courageous writing.”

MostlyFiction

( link)

“Latiolais is not only a good observer of human nature, but a fearless one. It takes a certain bravery to make stories of loneliness, of sadness, of reminiscences, and of contemplation enjoyable to read.”

Lancette Arts Journal (Canada)

( link)

“Intimate and charged . . . [Latiolais] revels in words and in language, and while saturated in loss, grief, and longing, her prose is also fiercely humorous, angry, sexual, and alive.”

Three Guys One Book

( link)

“A truly excellent collection of short stories, the best I have read in a long time . . . There is an emotional vitality to them, a clarity of insight, a sense for the ridiculous and the poignant that make them simply truthful and engaging.”

Lit Love: Tales from the Reading Room (UK)

( link)

“A master of banter, Latiolais is happily bawdy and gorgeously sensual. She is also archly imaginative and psychologically astute.”

Booklist

( link)

“All who venture here will discover some very fine writing.”

Library Journal

( link)

“Latiolais uses the finest details to weave strands of hope.”

ForeWord Reviews

( link)

“Every story in this collection is uniquely enjoyable.”

Shelf Awareness

( link)

“Totally original . . . the book maintains its sense of literary savoir faire to the end.”

New York Journal of Books

( link)

“In this luminous collection of stories, the gifted Michelle Latiolais writes of loss in all its surprising manifestations. Widow is a devastation and a wonder.”

Christine Schutt, author of All Souls

“There is something mysterious about this book, as there always is in the writing that matters most. It eludes explanation. It illumines terrifying realities. Only because these pages seem nakedly willing to take the imprint of every emotion, no matter how ugly, do they possess this great beauty.”

Elizabeth Tallent, author of Honey

“Widow is a hymn to reverence, simultaneously heartbroken and celebratory. Michelle Latiolais has given us the rarest item, a splendidly articulated masterpiece.”

William Kittredge, author of Hole in the Sky and The Nature of Generosity

“Every passionate reader lives for that first page of a book that alerts her, straightaway, she’ll be sorry when the book ends. So it is with Michelle Latiolais.”

Antioch Review 

Like the memoirs of Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates, Widow was largely written after the tragic death of Latiolais’ husband, and her stories bravely explore the physiology of grief through a masterful interweaving of tender insight and unflinching detail—reminding us that the inner life is best understood through the medium of storytelling. Among these stories of loss are interwoven other tales, creating a bridge to the ineffable pleasures and follies of life before the catastrophe. Throughout this collection, Latiolais captures the longing, humor, and strange grace that accompany life’s most transformative chapters.

Believer Book Award Editor’s Shortlist 

New York Times Editors’ Choice

San Francisco Chronicle & Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Excerpt from Widow

Crazy
–for Max Winter

The students were thanking her and then hugging her, filing out the front door and leaving down the walk. They liked the food, the wheat berry salad and the fennel tart. They liked the beer, too, and would she come with him to school sometime to hear a reading of one of their plays, or a rehearsal, perhaps have lunch with them? Polite. The students were always so polite to her, and funny, they made jokes about him that amused her. Of course they were drama students, and so they were lively and performative, joyfully outrageous, on fire. Did she know that he talked about her in rehearsals, said “I defer to my wife on this . . . .” One young woman–she stood so tall–said, “You’re his example for almost anything having to do with women.” The young woman smiled and it was genuine, her ink-blue eyes glistening; she was the talent in the group, Benson said, “it’s too bad she’s so tall.”

“Now we know why,” said another young woman, and it took her a moment to realize this was a compliment to her, that they understood why she was a measure of womanhood, or homemaking or cooking. It referred to so much, this compliment, and she knew they were taking their notes here, now, in her home, their home, Benson and hers. It made her nervous most times having them here, so many sets of avid eyes. Some of it was sweet attention, the fact that they were at school and away from real homes, stable living situations with full batteries of pots and pans. They hadn’t seen a four-square meal in days, nor cloth napkins and glasses that matched. They wandered the house looking at the paintings, or playing with the wicket in the front door, this bit of theatrical business, and today Benson had even directed them into their bedroom–really into their walk-in closet–to look at the original playbills from Odets’ Clash by Night and Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh. So many of them had stood in their bedroom, but one of the young men had plunked down on the bed, drinking his beer, one of his knees hiked up with his boot heel on the bed rail. It was just a length of wood, she said to herself, and his boot heel would do no damage. It was an old, old bed, one which she had brought to the marriage, a spool bed inherited from her southern aunt. They were reproducing them now, though this was an original from Louisiana, from the 1870s and made of West Indian mahoghany. She hadn’t wanted it to be their bed, their marriage bed; it had seemed too grandmotherly, and Benson stretched its entire length and then some, but they were as poor as these graduate students were now, and had been happy to even have a bed. A small white panel truck delivered it to their New York apartment all the way from Shreveport, the men calling ahead to make sure someone was there in the three-story walk up to receive it. On the busy, filthy sidewalk when the moving blankets dropped from the turned rungs of the bed’s footboard, a check, secured on one end with scotchtape, stood up like a playing card clothespinned to a bicycle spoke. On the back of the check was scrawled, “Buy yourself a good mattress and boxspring, one which will take a lot of action! Love Tante Cece.” She hadn’t loved the suggestion of her aunt’s note—it embarrassed her–and even worse was the absurd amount, enough for five mattress sets. She worried that these moving men had read her aunt’s ornate scrawl, had laughed their way up the eastern seaboard, and when Benson came striding down the street, waving, his face alight, he and the men had laughed and she heard the words “we brought the launchpad to the rocket,” and the deep male laughter and she watched from the window the vigorous handshakes and Benson putting money in their hands. “My aunt already paid them,” she said when Benson came up the stairs and in the front door. “She tipped them, too. You didn’t need to give them money.”

“Oh, why not,” Benson had said. “They’re in New York City. They need to play a bit.” She had felt mean, a check for five thousand dollars in her hand and she stood there begrudging these men a little mad money.

Of course, she and Benson bought a very fine mattress and boxspring, and because of this had used the bed for so long it became their bed and then, even longer into the years, after they had replaced that initial mattress set, it would have meant something too ominous to have changed out the bedframe . . . and then what would that preferred bed have been anyway? “I can’t hear you for this goddamn bed,” Benson complained, its squeaking and moaning quickening over the years as the different climates dried out the old wood. Or Benson would ask, amused, “Is that you or the bed?” or he would ask, his lips against her ear, “Was it as good for you as it was for the bed?” but Benson loved Tante Cece and would not have hurt her for the world even if she might never have found out about them purchasing something new and less rickety. It was just something Benson wouldn’t do in the world, and of course she had always agreed, had loved this observance in him.

But this summer, in the dense, unnerving heat, Benson moved her against the wall and ran his hands up under her wet arms and then up around her sticky neck. “Stop,” she pleaded, “stop. I’m a sweaty mess,” but he wouldn’t and he turned and pressed her into the bed and said, “I don’t care—you think I care about sweat. I want my mouth on you.” That was his expression, he wanted his mouth on her, but she could not understand this desire, could not imagine allowing anything so disgusting. “No,” she said, pushing his head from between her legs. “No. Why must you want this so much.”

He jerked his face away from her hand. “Why indeed,” he said and then he shifted his weight and rolled away and she raised her head to see him licking the mahoghany rungs of the footboard, “chewing the scenery,” a phrase she knew from him. And then she said as much, “You’re chewing the scenery.”

Now she shook the young man’s hand who had sat on the bed, the bed that had strangely not made a peep. His hand felt grainy and thick and cold, but her hands were always too warm, clammy. “I’ve read your books,” he said quietly. “They were helpful to my family.”

Oh, she thought, his hand falling from hers. She was always surprised when someone knew that she had done something other than stand by Benson’s side as he told his students goodbye. It was not Benson who spilled the beans, and her “oh” was in large measure her surprise that someone yet again had spoken about her, had identified her. What diligent soul in Benson’s department took it upon himself?

“You have a little sister,” she asked the young man, “or a sister, yes?”

“Yes,” he said.

“She eats now?”

“Yes,” he said again, “sort of,” and then he was gone down the steps and she heard his boot heels against the brick, resonant and pronounced, the jostle of the buckles. She liked the way his black leather jacket hiked up his back. She could see his faded blue shirttail just coming uptucked. She liked these students; she liked them all, their tremendous vulnerable power. Then Benson had her by the shoulders from behind and pulled her into himself and kissed her on the top of the head. “I’ll be right back in,” he said, and because he was an actor and he knew how to breathe, how to enunciate and project, his words blew hot across her scalp, as though even before she saw what she was about to see, the fire had begun.

“Come along, Mercutio,” Benson said, “that knucklehead Romeo awaits your death.” Benson’s talent, the tall Meagan, turned and smiled at her; she clutched her purse to her side, intoned what so many of them had intoned, thank yous, appreciation, and then she passed out the door at Benson’s insistence, his arms aloft, directing. The tall Meagan bowed awkwardly, a performance, stumbling into a funny drunken walk, and then she hung a moment on the iron gate delivering lines:

“No, ‘tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door, but ‘tis enough, ‘twill serve. Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am pepper’d—“

Benson laughed and pulled the front door shut.

Inside, it was so suddenly quiet, even the music between tracks, and then slowly the deep sounds of Mingus fingering his bass. She stood looking at the door’s panels and the iron wicket that rattled. She could open the little grille and look through, but she thought, no, don’t. She walked into the front room and gathered glasses and napkins onto a tray. Two cashews remained in the nut bowl. They looked to her like huge commas, and she leaned down and plucked them from the bowl and ate them. Mercutio’s lines, didn’t they signal the turning point in the play, the comedy ending and the tragedy beginning? She moved to the front window and looked out. She thought “the talent” and Benson well matched. They stood talking, first Meagan’s head down with her hair falling forward, obscuring her face, and then his face down, and then her hands held behind her back and her lovely face tilted up to his. Benson knew an audience at his back when he had one, and he never touched her, never even leaned down to kiss her on the cheek–blameless–but this was how she, his wife in the window, knew. All theater people hugged and kissed all the time. They were crazy for it.