Life after death. A great life.
Publisher: Crown (Random House)
First Published: 22nd January 2013
Date Reviewed: 31st January 2013
Aikman tells the story of life as a widow; first being dumped from the stereotypical support group, and then her quest to create a new sort of group – one focused on remaking lives and finding oneself in new experiences. She gathers five women of similar ages together and each month for a year they try something new – a spa, a cooking lesson, and lastly a grand holiday. Along the way they learn to live with their new lives and to love again. Interspersed with this main story are those of the days each woman lost her husband, Aikman’s discovery of new love, and information about research into grief.
Saturday Night Widows is a fantastic book with fantastic characters. It’s safe to say that if this were fiction, these women would be on book-lover’s lists everywhere and this is testament to how wonderful they are and how well Aikman writes. Rather than focusing on loss and grief, Aikman looks at the positives, the second chance at life and the chance to remake oneself – whilst grief is included, this is a book about happiness and triumph.
From what Aikman says, it appears that apart from wanting to simply conduct an experiment, Aikman may have envisaged a book from the very start; that is perhaps the reason why the memoir is insightful, helpful for those going through grief, and just simply a good book in general.
One of the most important themes of the book is the way both outsiders and the women themselves relate to widowhood and death, for example when Aikman wished to hire staff at an art museum to conduct a tour about remaking lives, the manager phoned her with ideas for art focusing on death. Aikman details how people can be overly helpful or say the wrong things, whether in innocence or because they feel the time for mourning should be over, and she explains (often in the context of her friends) why these things are bad.
Important too are the issues with blending families – two newly-single parents coming together when children are in the mix – which includes Aikman’s own issues with being a stepmother to a girl who didn’t want a stepmother. Whilst the women in the group are of similar ages their children are not, and this allows for a broad assessment of complications, and, of course, achievements.
And considering the ages of the women – the youngest 39, the oldest 57 – there was no easy acceptance of death as there might have been in old-age. With a variety of reasons for the deaths, including sudden death and suicide, the women present a detailed look at grieving and coping.
Dawn didn’t know anything about lotus blossoms when he gave her the photograph six months before he died. She asked him why, of all the glorious sights in the wild, he had chosen this image of a lotus, rooted in an inky swamp, for her. “It is because a lotus blossom will grow and perfume and flower,” he said, “even in the muck”.
Everyone made that same contented sound that Dawn had uttered before. We got it, all right. All of us – Denise, Dawn, Marcia, Lesley, Tara, me – we were blooming in the muck.
Wonderful is the way Aikman presents the women, how they leap off the pages, as colourful and positive in print as they’ve become in real-life. The presentation to the reader is a remaking in its own way as you grow to love them and know them rather well.
The one thing that might divide readers is the focus on experiments. There is quite a lot of exploration into scientific research and trials that can at times seem rather careless (the trials themselves that is, rather than Aikman’s retelling). Aikman details the women as though they are an experiment and this can make them read as children sometimes rather than friends. True, the group was an experiment of sorts, and Aikman, a reporter by trade, speaks of how she took her tape recorder to meetings and lead them in a way, but it can subtract from the friendliness and healing aspects of it all. One could say that to Aikman these women were subjects, but as you read on it is clear she is one of them just as much as any other. Yet all this is understandable because of Aikman’s job as a reporter, and, it must be said, it’s also quite a boon to the book because of the unique angle it takes and the information it offers to anyone wishing to look into it as a subject.
A great deal of credit must go to Aikman’s writing style, the way she mixes accounts of the monthly meetings with memories of the past and what is happening in the present. The book would likely not suffer if it were just focused on the meetings, because it is a strong thread as it is, but these three aspects and time periods mean that the book is so varied and detailed (even without straying from the main theme) that it is difficult not to want to keep reading. There is never a dull moment where nothing happens. If this is a prime example of Aikman’s work then the newspaper she worked at has surely lost a fabulous employee.
Saturday Night Widows has a vast appeal. Undoubtedly a book for women who have also lost their husbands, the work has a general interest aspect to it as well as being a likely candidate for a book about women that would interest a male audience, too. Filled with memorable people who you will find yourself continuing to root for beyond the last page, the book is an example of looking adversity in the eye without suggesting that grief is anything but awful to get away from. Sad, happy, contemplative, funny, and sentimental without dwelling too long (indeed this is the group’s aim), and written by a true talent with plenty of experience in the craft, Saturday Night Widows is one to look out for on any night of the week.
I received this book for review from Crown Publishers.
February 8, 2013, 2:18 pm
I’m glad you enjoyed this one, I did too! I thought it would be a lot sadder than it was but in the end it seemed more about friendship and hope than about the fact that they were widows. Great read :) Great review!
February 8, 2013, 7:46 pm
This is SO not my typical book, but you make it sound like a must read!
I had dinner with a friend last week. She lost her dad three years ago, and she’s worried about her mom. The mom now hosts a grief group, and her daughter feels like they focus too much on death and can’t ever move on. I’ll definitely recommend she read this and see if it might be something that would work for her mom.
February 10, 2013, 10:59 am
I have seen this book in the English blogs, but I think this is the first review I actually read.
It’s interesting, and since it has been published by RH, I think it will be in Spanish sooner or later, and be sure I’ll look for it.
I love this stories (real or ficional) about women
February 10, 2013, 11:58 am
Jennifer: Me, too. I thought there would be more grief than the fun cover suggested. A very good read!
Jenn: Me neither, I opted to read this book about 70% sure it wouldn’t be for me. Something just told me to read it, though. I’d say it would be an excellent book for your friend. I do wonder if it might be too positive for people who’ve only just experienced a death, but from what you’ve said your friend and her mother would likely find it okay.
Isi: Hopefully it will be translated, there’s so much in this book and it surely has worldwide appeal (especially as there is also some information about different cultures). I think you’d enjoy it :)