An Available Man, by Hilma Wolitzer
(New York: Ballantine Books, 2012)
"In this tender and funny novel, award-winning author Hilma Wolitzer mines the unpredictable fallout of suddenly becoming single later in life, and the chaos and joys of falling in love the second time around. When Edward Schuyler, a modest and bookish sixty-two-year-old science teacher, is widowed, he finds himself ambushed by female attention. There are plenty of unattached women around, but a healthy, handsome, available man is a rare and desirable creature. Edward receives phone calls from widows seeking love, or at least lunch, while well-meaning friends try to set him up at dinner parties. Even an attractive neighbor offers herself to him.
"The problem is that Edward doesn't feel available. He's still mourning his beloved wife, Bee, and prefers solitude and the familiar routine of work, gardening, and bird-watching. But then his stepchildren surprise him by placing a personal ad in The New York Review of Books on his behalf. Soon the letters flood in, and Edward is torn between his loyalty to Bee's memory and his growing longing for connection. Gradually, reluctantly, he begins dating ('dating after death,' as one correspondent puts it), and his encounters are variously startling, comical, and sad. Just when Edward thinks he has the game figured our, a chance meeting proves that love always arrives when it's least expected.
"With wit, warmth, and a keen understanding of the heart, An Available Man explores aspects of loneliness and togetherness, and the difference in the options open to men and women of a certain age. Most of all, the novel celebrates the endurance of love, and its thrilling capacity to bloom anew."
"Edward Schuyler was ironing his oldest blue oxford shirt in the living room on a Saturday afternoon when the first telephone call came."
This and I Thought You Were Dead, together, should be required reading for anyone who's laying low and convalescing, whether from a stubborn case of bronchitis or from acute heartbreak. What a lovely, understated story of widowhood, grief, loneliness, and ultimately, love. Edward is just so real and likeable; he felt like a distant but kind relative, or the neighbor you always meant to have in for supper. And some of his first forays into dating are both poignant and funny: the businesslike woman with whom he has nothing in common, but who nonetheless expects sex at the end of the evening; the friendly widow who can't stop talking about her late husband and displaying photo after photo of their lives together; the cosmetically-altered, seemingly ageless 70 year old. The supporting cast are also well-sketched, particularly Edward's fragile stepdaughter Julie and tough-old-bird mother-in-law Gladys. I'm even OK with the reasonably happy ending.