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TitleA Widow for One Year
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                            A Widow For One Year
                        
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Page 1

A WIDOW

FOR

ONEYEAR

For Janet,

a love story

“. . . as for this little lady,
the best thing I can wish her is

alittle misfortune.”

—WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY



Acknowledgments

I am grateful for my many visits to Amsterdam during the four years I spent
writing this novel, and I’m especially indebted to the patience and generosity of
brigadier Joep de Groot of the District 2 police; without Joep’s advice, this book
couldn’t have been written. I’m also indebted to the help given me by Margot
Alvarez, formerly of De Rode Draad—an organization for prostitutes’ rights in
Amsterdam. And most of all—for the time and care that he devoted to the
manuscript—I want to thank Robbert Ammerlaan, my Dutch publisher. Regarding
the Amsterdam sections in this book, I owe these three Amsterdammers
incalculable thanks. For what I may have managed to get right, the credit belongs
to them; if there are errors, the fault is mine.

Page 2

As for the numerous parts of this novelnotset in Amsterdam, I have relied on the
expertise of Anna von Planta in Geneva, Anne Freyer in Paris, Ruth Geiger in
Zurich, Harvey Loomis in Sagaponack, and Alison Gordon in Toronto. I must also
cite the attention to detail that was ably demonstrated by three outstanding
assistants: Lewis Robinson, Dana Wagner, and Chloe Bland: I commend Lewis
and Dana and Chloe for the irreproachable carefulness of their work.

An oddity worth mentioning: the chapter called “The Red and Blue Air Mattress”
was previously published—in slightly different form, and in German—in
theSüddeutsche Zeitung,July 27, 1994, under the title “Die blaurote Luftmatratze.”

— J.I.


I

SUMMER

1958



The Inadequate Lamp Shade

One night when she was four and sleeping in the bottom bunk of her bunk bed,
Ruth Cole woke to the sound of lovemaking—it was coming from her parents’
bedroom. It was a totally unfamiliar sound to her. Ruth had recently been ill with a
stomach flu; when she first heard her mother making love, Ruth thought that her
mother was throwing up.

It was not as simple a matter as her parents having separate bedrooms; that
summer they had separate houses, although Ruth never saw the other house. Her

Page 333

that Ruth couldn’t keep count.

On the subject of childhood, Ruth preferred what Greene had written inThe Power
and the Glory:“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens
and lets the future in.” Oh, yes—Ruth agreed. But sometimes, she would have
argued, there is more thanonemoment, because there is more than one future. For
example, there was the summer of ’58, the most obvious moment when the alleged
“door” had opened and the alleged “future” had been let in. But there was also the
spring of ’69, when Ruth turned fifteen and her father had taught her to drive.

For more than ten years, she’d been asking her father to tell her about the accident
that killed Thomas and Timothy; her father had refused. “When you’re old enough
to hear it, Ruthie—when you know how to drive,” he’d always said.

They drove every day, usually first thing in the morning—even on the summer
weekends, when the Hamptons were overcrowded. Her father wanted her to get
used to bad drivers. That summer, on Sunday nights—when the traffic would be
backed up in the westbound lane of the Montauk Highway, and the weekend
people would already be behavingimpatiently, some of them (literally) dying to
get back to New York—Ted would take Ruth out in the old white Volvo. He
would drive around until he found what he called “a pretty good mess.” The traffic
would be at a standstill, and some idiots would already have begun passing on the
right, in the soft shoulder of the road, and others would be trying to break out of
the line of cars, to turn around and go back to their summer homes—just to wait
for an hour or two, or to have a really stiff drink before starting out again.

“This looks like a pretty good mess, Ruthie,” her father would say.

And Ruth would change seats with him—sometimes while the furious driver
behind them honked and honked his horn. There were side roads, of course; she
knew them all. She could inch ahead on the Montauk Highway, and then break
free of the traffic and race parallel to the highway on the connecting back roads,
always finding a way to break back into the lineup of cars again. Her father would
look behind them, then, saying, “It appears that you gained on about seven cars, if

Page 334

that’s the same dumb Buick back there that I think it is.”

Sometimes she’d drive all the way to the Long Island Expressway before her
father would say, “Let’s call it a night, Ruthie, or the next thing we know, we’ll be
in Manhattan!”

On other Sunday nights, the traffic might be so bad that her father considered it a
sufficient demonstration of her driving skills if Ruth merely executed a U-turn and
drove them home.

He emphasized her constant awareness of the rearview mirror, and of course she
knew that when she was stopped and waiting to turn left, across a lane of
oncoming traffic, she must never,everturn her wheels to the left in anticipation of
the turn she was waiting to make. “Never—notever!” her father had told her, from
her very first driving lesson. But he still hadn’t told her the story of what had
actually happened to Thomas and Timothy. Ruth knew only that Thomas had been
driving.

“Patience, Ruthie, patience,” her father would repeat and repeat to her.

“Iampatient, Daddy,” Ruth would tell him. “I’m still waiting for you to tell me the
story, aren’t I?”

“I mean, be a patient driver, Ruthie—always be a patient driver.”

The Volvo—like all of Ted’s Volvos, which he began buying in the sixties—was a
stick shift. (Ted told Ruth to never trust a boy who drove an automatic
transmission.) “And if you’re in the passenger seat andI’m the driver, I never look
at you—I don’t care what you say, or what kind of fit you’re having. Even if
you’re choking,” Ted said. “If I’m driving the car, I can talk to you, but I don’t
look at you—not ever. And when you’re the driver, you don’t look at me, or at
anyone who might be in the passenger seat. Not until you get off the road and stop
the car. You got it?”

“Got it,” Ruth said.

Page 665

the order I’ve already selected as best for the reader. Telling a story
is as much knowing what information to withhold as it is knowing
what to tell.

In the case ofA Widow . . . ,I knew that Marion’s coming back, and
Ruth’s seeing her and starting to cry, was where the story had to
end. I knew what I wanted Marion to say, and that this would be an
echo of what we’d already heard her say to Ruth as a child. But it
took me the longest time to work myway back to the beginning, to
find the first occasion for Marion to say something like “Don’t cry,
honey, it’s just Eddie and me.”

I’d been taking notes for a year and a half—I knew everything
about Harry, and the death of the boys, and all about Ted, and even
Hannah—but I still hadn’t found the episode that is now the
beginning of the novel, when Ruth catches her mother making love
and Marion says, “Don’t scream, honey . . .” and so forth. When I
found it, I knew I was ready to begin. “One night when she was
four . . .” and so on.Thatwas a hard line to get to. All the rest just
followed; they were waiting in place.

HG: Were there any places in the novel—or in any of your
novels—where the characters took over what you had planned for
them and started doing things that surprised you?

JI: No. Never.

Oh, all right, there have been small surprises, but the characters
essentially remain as I have imagined them. I’ll tell you what I
mean by a small surprise. I knew Marion would come back and buy
Ruth’s house, with Eddie. I didn’t know that Eddie would be so
smitten with the idea of owning Ruth’s house that he would go so
far as to propose buying the house with Hannah. Naturally
Hannah’s reaction to that idea wasn’t hard to imagine, but Eddie

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