Jonathan Tropper

"How to Talk to a Widower"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky AUG 2, 2007)

“But it’s been a year now, and my family and friends seem to think that’s the shelf life on grief, like all you need is one round through all of the seasons and then you’re tapped like an empty keg, ready to start living again….  I’ve become quite possessive of my grief, actually, and I’m not really up for sharing it.”

If you were to open the dictionary to the word “immature,” you might very well find Doug Parker’s boyish twenty-nine-year-old face staring back at you.  You may notice that he appears drunk and/or stoned as well as unkempt and unfocused.  A year earlier, Doug suddenly became a widower when his gorgeous older wife of two years, Hailey, died in an airplane crash somewhere over Colorado.

In Jonathan Tropper’s profane and raunchy How to Talk to a Widower, Doug doesn’t buy into the concepts of closure, grief therapy, and “moving on with your life.”  Instead, he is mired in a bottomless swamp of self-pity.  He spends many aimless hours vegetating on his front porch in suburban Westchester, tossing rocks and beer cans at the rabbits that congregate on his lawn.  He can afford to zone out because he has a roof over his head (he lives in Hailey’s house) and a large settlement coming from the airline.  Not that Doug has ever been a financial go-getter.  His previous work experience has been spotty at best, and the only stab he currently makes at meaningful employment is an occasional magazine article about life as a disconsolate widower.  Surprisingly, his magazine pieces strike a chord with the public, and his agent excitedly informs him that he may be able to get him a lucrative publishing deal complete with media coverage.

Doug is not alone in his misery.  Hailey’s sixteen-year-old son, Russ, is a deeply troubled adolescent who has been coping badly in the aftermath of his mother’s death.  Russ lives unhappily with his father, Jim, whom he detests, and his bimbo of a stepmother, Angie.  The boy is a pothead who gets into frequent scrapes, and he frequently hints that he would like to live with Doug.  However, his stepfather rejects the young man’s overtures, since Doug cannot be bothered with other people’s problems. 

Tropper’s cast of well-drawn characters include Claire, Doug’s potty-mouthed and aggressive twin sister who freely dispenses advice to her brother while she screws up her own life, Doug’s father, a doctor who has survived a stroke that left his mind and personality forever altered, and Brooke Hayes, a twenty-seven year old high school guidance counselor with whom Doug forms an instant connection. 

As Doug emerges from his torpor, he makes some serious mistakes, and the book closes on a bittersweet note.  The hero admits, “At this point in my life, I’m not looking for any happy endings.  I’m just looking to get things started again.”  How to Talk to a Widower starts out as a depressing tale of an obnoxiously self-centered individual.  Fortunately, Tropper cultivates some fertile topics that will resonate with readers:  family ties may constrict us, but our otherwise irritating relatives may provide loving support when we need it most; each day on earth is a frightening and unpredictable game of Russian roulette; some men, the “Peter Pans” among us, are late bloomers who grow up slowly, if at all; and we must take daunting emotional risks if we are to have any chance at happiness.   After an inauspicious opening, the author finds his voice, and the book takes off to become riotously funny, deeply moving, and ultimately redemptive. 

  • Amazon readers rating: from 66 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from How to Talk to a Widower at Random House

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About the Author:

Jonathan TropperJonathan Tropper was born and raised in Riverdale, New York. He attended the creative writing program at New York University Graduate School of Arts and Science, where he received a Masters degree.

He lives with his wife, Elizabeth, and their children in Westchester, New York, where he teaches writing at Manhattanville College About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014