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The Widower's Notebook: A Memoir


The Widower's Notebook: A Memoir

Jonathan and Joy Santlofer were not a perfect couple by any means. They did their fair share of fighting and annoying one another. But they were content in their lives together, even after a 40-year marriage, and mutually sustained one another’s creative and professional work. They were both solidly middle-aged, with a grown daughter, but always envisioned they’d still have decades left to grow old together.

However, that all changed when, in the wake of what should have been a routine, extremely minor surgical procedure, Joy experienced a sudden inability to breathe and died, despite the paramedics’ and emergency room physicians’ best efforts. Jonathan, who had been working in his adjoining studio at the time, initially can’t even process what’s happened, as he alternates between disbelief at his current situation and anger at himself for failing to prevent an unthinkable tragedy.

"THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK is vital reading, a beautiful testament to Joy’s life, and a much-needed window into how one man grapples with the most acute kind of loss."

Both a bestselling novelist and an accomplished and well-regarded artist, Santlofer at first feels paralyzed in the wake of Joy’s death. Initially able to produce only the most rudimentary creative work, he eventually begins to jot down not only his reminiscences of his late wife but also his musings and reflections on his grief. He considers at length the dearth of memoirs by men about loss and the grieving process. And much of his own memoir focuses on questions of how men grieve, and how other people speak to and approach grieving men differently than they do grieving women.

Santlofer is stern in his condemnation of friends who do or say the drastically wrong thing --- either ignoring his grief or making snide jokes about his newfound sexual freedom --- and wonders how those same people might have related to his wife had he been the one to die before she did.

The author/artist is also candid about his very real struggles --- his dependence on tranquilizers, his reliance on mindless television, his initial inability to cry, his (eventual) uncomfortable first sexual relationship after Joy’s death. He shares how his two forms of creative art --- writing and visual art --- provide him with different outlets in the wake of loss. Writing gives him a way to process and organize his thoughts, while drawing affords him the opportunity to turn those thoughts off for a while and focus entirely on the phenomena of line, shape and shadow. Santlofer includes many of his pencil drawings in the pages of his memoir, allowing readers to feel closer to him and his family.

The portions of the book dealing with Santlofer’s tentative relationship with his adult daughter, Doria, are particularly poignant. Their mutual loss ultimately brings them closer together but also causes them to redefine their relationship and acknowledge their different ways of dealing with grief. And the closing chapters, in which father and daughter engage in the intensely personal yet profoundly shared experience of scattering Joy’s ashes, are both a fitting closure to the memoir and a promising glimpse at what might come next for this grieving pair.

THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK is vital reading, a beautiful testament to Joy’s life, and a much-needed window into how one man grapples with the most acute kind of loss.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 13, 2018

The Widower's Notebook: A Memoir
by Jonathan Santlofer

  • Publication Date: July 10, 2018
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 0143132490
  • ISBN-13: 9780143132493