In The Widower's Notebook, New York artist and author Jonathan Santlofer chronicles in brutally candid detail his unraveling after the sudden death of his life partner. Santlofer and his late wife, Joy, were together for more than 40 years, their lives entwined in every imaginable way. Healthy and vibrant, Joy underwent knee surgery and, less than 48 hours later, she died.
For Santlofer, the anguish and shock of the loss, the mysterious cause of her death and a lifelong habit of concealing his pain meant that the face he showed to the world was a mask, his debilitating grief an almost guilty indulgence. Staying strong for his daughter, Doria, was his main focus, all the while writing and drawing in his notebook as a therapeutic way to acknowledge his heartache and despair.
Society has certain prescribed ways of dealing with widows, the expectation being that a woman's display of emotion and sadness at her loss is acceptable. Widowers are expected to bounce back quickly. Santlofer writes with measured indignation about friends who lose sight of his bereavement and try to distract him, in one case by offering call girls from an online catalogue. As he begins to adjust himself to the role of widower, he pushes back against these expectations, establishing for himself a new order.
The Widower's Notebook is surprisingly funny in places, and Santlofer's graceful illustrations are sweet and poignant in the details they emphasize: Joy as a young mother; her beloved cat, Lily; their daughter's resemblance to her mother; and the author's own serious expression contrasted with his wife's happy and carefree smile. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer