Publication date: February 11, 2014
While still in her early twenties, Claire Jenks married Charlie Byrne, renowned sexology author and twenty-three years her senior. For ten years she gave up her own writing career to support his fame. One morning as he is walking home from his mistress’s apartment he is killed by a bronze statue that falls from a crane moving it from an apartment. The Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating is a novel about Claire’s life in the year after her husband’s death. Probably the most notable thing about this debut novel is that it is written about Carole Radziwill, one of the infamous Real Housewives of New York. How I know this, don’t ask, but it’s true.
Claire goes through almost every conceivable option to move on and find a good man, including psychics, an oracle, more than one psychiatrist, an abundance of alcohol, a few bad blind dates, and even a tryst with a mega-movie star. Her friends are both a help and a hindrance and there is plenty of NYC humor about people with too much money. The good, if not unpredictable, news is that Claire does find her way back to herself and to happiness. The Widow’s Guide is a light-hearted, chick-lit look at a woman’s attempt to reclaim her joy in life after having given up ten years to her husband’s not-so-secret dalliances. The fact that this journey and joy seem only to involve dating and having sex again makes it an odd premise—even for fluffy fiction.
Radziwill is respected as a journalist and there her efforts are well-regarded. She wrote a memoir (What Remains) about the loss of her husband, whom she loved a great deal, which makes this novel feel even more awkward. The talent and intelligence are there but the choice of subject for her first foray into fiction almost feels like a mockery of her reality or a very misguided attempt to heal with humor. Neither way works and my hope is that she moves further away from her own life for her next attempt at fiction. In the meantime, I’m going to read What Remains and see who this writer really is.