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Epilogue: A Memoir

Review

Epilogue: A Memoir

While Joan Didion’s THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING is likely
to remain the touchstone for contemporary books about a
widow’s grief, Anne Roiphe’s new memoir is a painfully
honest and deeply affecting companion to Didion’s work.

In December 2005, Herman Roiphe (“H.,” as she refers
to him throughout the memoir), a well-known New York psychoanalyst,
her husband of 39 years and 12 years her senior, died suddenly. Now
Anne must begin her life again as a widow at the age of 69.
“Grief is in two parts,” she writes. “The first
is loss. The second is the remaking of life. This book is about the
second. Although the division between the two parts is not a line,
a wall or a chasm.” With that candid insight, Roiphe launches
her account of the 18 months or so that followed her
husband’s death.

What’s striking about Roiphe’s situation, especially
for such a highly educated, sophisticated woman, is how
ill-equipped she seems to be to deal with some of the daily reality
of it. Like many widows, she’s mystified when it comes to
financial matters (“This is his job. But he is not here and
now I will do it, badly, but I will do it. Resentfully I will do
it.”). But she’s equally at sea trying to perform even
the most mundane of tasks, like fitting her key into the door of
her apartment, which she always had left to her husband, or
deciding which subway to take in a city where she’s lived all
her life. It’s as if the loss of H. has rendered her disabled
in some mysterious fashion.

Granted, some of the challenges Roiphe must confront are hardly
the ordinary stuff of widowhood. Claiming that she’s
forbidden to provide details, she’s left to clean up a
lawsuit “for a considerable amount of money stemming from
something in my husband’s past.” And she must deal with
the blackly comic demand of her husband’s ex-wife for an
entire month’s alimony (“the last drop of honey from
the pot”) for the month in which he died.

Thanks to a personal ad placed by her daughters in The New
York Review of Books
, and her own foray unto Match.com, Roiphe
doesn’t lack for male companionship (the way that e-mail has
transformed dating rituals, even for senior citizens, is one of the
subtexts of Roiphe’s story). From the self-absorbed to the
desperate, she chronicles her experiences with these men, even
describing with refreshing honesty her sexual encounter with an
attorney named M. The most bizarre of them (and the only one to
which she does not attach an initial, a style borrowed from
psychoanalytic writings) is a man from Albany, New York, who
bombards her with email filled with increasingly virulent, even
paranoid, right-wing propaganda. Although the two never meet, she
seems oddly tempted by the notion of a relationship with him.
It’s puzzling that Roiphe, a passionate feminist, would have
tolerated this onslaught of messages so at odds with her core
beliefs for so long.

As befits an author of 15 books of fiction and nonfiction,
Roiphe's voice is rich with nuance. At times she’s concise
and epigrammatic: “It is not a sign of normal life when the
takeout deliverymen become fond of you or your tips.”
“If only there were a camp for us like the camps for the
overweight kids advertised on the back of the New York Times
Magazine.
” And yet she’s equally capable of
expressions of arresting beauty and poignancy: “Think of
grief as a river that finally runs into the ocean where it is
absorbed but not dissolved, pebbles, moss, fish, twigs from the
smallest upland stream run with it and finally float in the salt
sea from which life emerged.”

By the end of her journey, Roiphe has emerged a different,
stronger person. She has enrolled in a class in ancient history in
the land of Israel, drawn closer to her daughters, and reconciled
herself to the notion that she may never have another intimate
relationship with a man. And while there are moments when she
fleetingly contemplates leaping from her apartment, like the
characters in John Irving’s novel THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE,
she leaves no doubt that she’ll “keep passing the open
windows.”

Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg (mwn52@aol.com) on January 21, 2011

Epilogue: A Memoir
by Anne Roiphe

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2008
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0061254622
  • ISBN-13: 9780061254628