An Available Man: A Novel

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Random House Publishing Group, Jan 24, 2012 - Fiction - 304 pages
5 Reviews
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 married 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 out, 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.

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“Funny, wise and touching.”—The Washington Post

“Wonderful . . . [Hilma] Wolitzer’s vision of the world, for all its sorrow, is often hilarious and always compassionate.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Smart and poignant, An Available Man explores some universal truths—that the past is never past, life is for the living, and dating is really, really hard.”—O: The Oprah Magazine

“Charming . . . Wolitzer is a champ at the closely observed, droll novel of manners.”—NPR

“[Hilma Wolitzer is an] American literary treasure.”—The Boston Globe

“A deeply satisfying story of love lost and found.”—Bookreporter

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After a failed love affair, leaving him waiting at the altar, it takes about 2 decades for Edward Schuyler to find the love of his life, Bea Silver. She comes with a ready made family for him to love and enjoy. Sadly, about two decades later, Bea succumbs to Cancer. Her children, from her first marriage, secretly place a personal ad for him, in the local paper, not wanting him to face a life of loneliness. They do not want to see him overwhelmed with sorrow and are hoping to send him down the road to recovery.
Edward, however, has grown content to be on his own, dealing with his isolation, ironing Bea’s blouses to maintain his closeness to her, keeping her clothing in the closet to retain her scent, until finally her friends come in, en masse, to clean everything out for him. He resists reentry into the world of dating and the company of others. His first attempts to mingle are fairly disastrous, but eventually he becomes more comfortable with himself and the women who seek him out.
The book examines the human emotions of loss and renewal, as well as the solitude of single life for women and men, of varied ages. As Edward grapples with his widowed status, he is portrayed as shy and retiring, more laid back than outgoing, and the women are portrayed with one foot in the marriage bed and one foot at the altar. Even married friends think he is fair game. Approached by single and married women, he is truly the available man, and the women are hungry for him. Although his early efforts at dating are a dismal failure, as he recovers from his bereavement, he too, begins to hunger for women and sex.
I thought that the plot seemed a little contrived, although it did honestly depict the fact that women, seem to have to more aggressively search for a man, while the man simply has to sit back and wait for opportunities to find him. Yet, it made the women a tad too aggressive and needy to feel totally real, even providing a 71 year old woman who attempts to seduce him, albeit in the dark. He is a 62 year old “available man, and although, as a teacher, he has a modest financial nest egg, he is not what one would call a great catch, unless all that counts is that everything is in working order. So, in that way, I thought the book overdid his availability. He was simply a man and I would think women would want more than a body, which is not how they were portrayed it in this book. The women seemed shallow, simply searching for a pair of pants, rather than an engaging partner, and I thought the treatment of them was a little disrespectful.
The book was well executed, though; it was very easy to read and/or listen to, as I did, but I felt it was a little wanting in depth. In the face of such loss, the family dynamic did not always feel genuine. Would the children really place a personal ad for their stepfather? Would the man really be so disinterested for so long and seem so nave about all the women trying to attract him? Are most women so desperate and forward? Yes, I know that women sometimes seem hungrier than men do, when they are adrift and alone, but too many of the women in this book seemed to be caricatures of lonely women with nothing on their mind but the communal bed and with no real interest in a relationship of the mind, at all. The women were just depicted as too shallow for my liking.
Overall though, it was a poignant tale dealing with emotional immaturity, emotional illness, loneliness and loss and how we attempt to deal with our grief and solitude, ultimately healing, so we lead a more productive and happy life.

Review: An Available Man: A Novel

User Review  - Holly - Goodreads

I would read it again for the authenticity of the characters and the description of what widower-hood might be like for a good man. There was a certain suspense to it that kept me reading. I kept ... Read full review

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About the author (2012)

Hilma Wolitzer is the author of several novels, including Summer Reading, The Doctor’s Daughter, Hearts, Ending, and Tunnel of Love, as well as a nonfiction book, The Company of Writers. She is a recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award. She has taught writing at the University of Iowa, New York University, and Columbia University.

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