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An Available Man

Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest commented on life after the death of a spouse, noting …

“… dear Lady Harbury… since her poor husband’s death. I never saw a woman so altered; she looks quite twenty years younger.”

In An Available Man, Hilma Wolitzer explores the life of Edward Schuyler, a 62 year-old science teacher, after the death of his wife – not a biting satire like Oscar Wilde, but a comedy of manners with a poignant mix of humor and pathos that addresses a life after death.

Edward thought he was managing – just some out-of-sight crying in the basement, wearing his wife’s neck chain for his glasses so he could see to screen phone calls, and ironing his dead wife’s blouses for comfort. He’d avoided well-meaning friends attempts at match-making, but then his children placed a personal ad in the newspaper for him. Responses poured in; one of my favorites:

“We have many beautiful Russian brides waiting to meet you.”

Edward hesitatingly gets back into dating, and one response surprisingly takes him back to his broken past and the one who left him standing at the altar.  As Wolitzer takes Edward through a series of misbegotten adventures with his family as well as his dates, his life becomes a series of lessons easy to observe as a reader but probably hard to actually live through. He even suffers the death of the family dog, but finally Edward finds true love again, in an unlikely possibility, and receives the gracious blessing of his dead wife’s ninety year old mother.

When I was floundering, trying to decide what to read, my good friend came to the rescue with this book, and I am thankful for its witty and thoughtful tonic.  I needed a happy ending – and Wolitzer delivers – without cynicism.