Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: The Widow Waltz

By Jami Deise

Since our bra-burning days, married women have been instructed to keep their own bank accounts and make sure they know every detail of their household’s financial status. But studies show that many women do not. Too busy dealing with the day-to-day crises involved with raising children, working, and running a household, they leave the bill-paying, 401K investments, and health insurance premiums to their spouse. This is a decision that can blow up in a woman’s face, as it leaves her extremely vulnerable in the event of divorce or her spouse’s death.

In fiction, of course, the consequences of such actions are always extreme, and for Georgia -- "The Widow Waltz" -- her ignorance chickens come home to roost soon after the sudden death of her husband, attorney Ben Silver. Ben and Georgia lived an extremely privileged life in New York City, with a Central Park apartment, a beach home in the Hamptons, expensive cars, a staff, and enough money to fully support their adult daughters, Nicola and Louisa. After Ben drops dead while training for the New York City marathon, Georgia learns that he had drained their bank accounts and mortgaged their properties to the hilt. Where did all the money go, and what secrets was Ben hiding? Georgia slowly puts her life back together while reluctantly piecing together the few clues that Ben left. At the same time, Nicola and Louisa (Luey) deal with their grief by going to clubs and sleeping till noon.

The Widow Waltz, written by Sally Koslow, is a slow and heavy-feeling book; reading it mirrors the “moving through molasses” process of grief. Koslow spends a lot of time in scenes explaining characters, giving back story and description that slow the book down even further. She alternates between the points-of-view of Georgia and her daughters. Georgia’s point-of-view is first person, present tense, and her chapters are much longer than her daughters’, which are written in third person past tense. Nicola and Luey are very similar characters, and I had trouble remember who was who. The voices of all three are similar as well, and the use of past and present tense seemed more like a gimmick than a genuine attempt to establish unique individuals. Georgia herself, while certainly a sympathetic protagonist due to her situation, is passive through most of the book, which elicits pity rather than empathy. The title is a play upon Georgia’s last name; she kept her maiden name, an authorial decision I found puzzling due to the character’s sole identity as wife and mother.

Other characters include Georgia’s brother, jeweler Stephan; Stephan’s partner and Georgia’s best friend, art dealer Daniel; Georgia’s elderly mother Camille; and various love interests, who help Georgia and her daughters expand their lives beyond the grief and mystery of Ben’s death.

By the last third of the book, the story does get interesting, as Koslow finally puts in motion everything she has set up in previous chapters. The ending, while emotionally satisfying, still left me puzzled. The math just didn’t add up.

Last year, I reviewed a book with a similar plot – Wellesley Wives. Both books deal with rich families who suddenly go broke when their patriarch dies, and they both featuring rotating points-of-view of the mother and grown daughters. While The Widow Waltz has rich settings and description, Wellesley Wives is the more enjoyable of the two books. But both books do stress the message: No matter how much money your husband makes, women need to be fully involved with all financial decisions. It’s a lesson well heeded even when it comes in the fictional form.

Thanks to Penguin for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Sally Koslow:

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