Hilma Wolitzer’s funny, wise and touching new novel is about Edward Schuyler, a 62-year-old science teacher, recently widowed, who finds himself relentlessly pursued by women: single women, divorced women, a woman who is married to one of his close friends, even a woman he loved in his 20s and planned to marry — until she left him waiting at the altar. Many of these women are friendly and pleasant; one or two seem “slightly insane.”
Edward is that rare creature so prized by hostesses and matchmakers: an available man. Sadly, he did not become available by choice but through tragedy: the death of his beloved wife, Bee, from cancer. Lonely but uncomfortably aware that “even the word dating was a little abhorrent to him,” Edward sadly concluded “that he didn’t feel available.”
His stepchildren, Bee’s adult son and daughter, and her daughter-in-law have compounded Edward’s difficulties by secretly placing an ad in the personals section of the New York Review of Books: “Science Guy. Erudite and kind, balding but handsome.” Responses come flooding in, everything from “your fabulous, fiftyish fantasy” to “many beautiful Russian brides waiting to meet you” to people who mistake Edward for Bill Nye, the “Science Guy” of television fame.
Some more or less normal women, too, seek Edward’s company. The accounts of his initial, reluctant “dating after death” are very amusing, but they also show real understanding of the women Edward meets: Karen is “good looking in a hard-edged, female-action-figure sort of way” and so desperate for sex that she scares him off; Roberta can only talk, teary-eyed, about her dead husband; and Sylvia has had extensive plastic surgery to disguise her age (71). After failure in bed, she and Edward hold each other in mutual compassion, “rocking slightly,” until he leaves.
Wolitzer writes so well and knows so much that her books combine absurdity with poignancy in a deft and captivating way. Edward’s relationships with Bee’s children, and especially with her 92-year-old mother, Gladys, are rendered with skill and sustained by warmth. There is also a beautifully light touch in each detail showing Edward’s long intimacy with his own house: the gurgle of water through pipes, the click of the old dog’s toenails on the floor. Thank goodness the love story that finally takes shape toward the end of Edward’s dubious adventures seems likely to be as satisfying as any gentle and bewildered widower could wish.
Lindbergh has written a number of books for children and adults, including “Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age and Other Unexpected Adventures.”
AN AVAILABLE MAN
By Hilma Wolitzer
Ballantine. 285 pp. $25