How to Talk to a Widower

I finished Jonathan Tropper's sublimely-written novel How to Talk to a Widower on an airplane bound for Provincetown two weekends ago and as has become tradition whenever I wrap up something Tropper-penned (see here, here and here for evidence) I have stockpiled a handful of my favorite lines to share. Because How to Talk to a Widower was the last of Tropper's novels that I had yet to read, this will almost certainly be my last quote post until he writes something new.

People want their lives to make sense, want to sit back like cosmic detectives and examine what's happened to them so far, identifying the key turning points that shaped them and retroactively imbuing these moments with a mystical aura, like the celestial forces of the universe are a team of writers on the serialized television show of your life, charged with concocting outrageously convoluted plotlines designed to achieve resolution by the end of the season. No one wants to believe that it's all completely random, that the direction of our lives is nothing more than a complex series of accidents, little nuclear mushroom clouds, and we're just living in the fallout.

You see the people you love the way they are in your head, but every once in a while you accidentally catch a glimpse of them in real time, and in those split seconds, as your brain scrambles to adjust to a new reality, small things inside you swerve off the road and drive over cliffs, spinning and screaming all the way down.

"...people become possessive of their grief, almost proud of it. They want to believe it's like no one else's. But it is. It's exactly like everybody else's. Grief is like a shark. It's been around forever, and in that time there's been just about no evolution. You know why?"


"Because it's perfect just the way it is."

"There are no happy endings, just happy days, happy moments. The only real ending is death, and trust me, no one dies happy. And the price of not dying is that things change all the time, and the only thing you can count on is that there's not a thing you can do about it."

You swear you'll never become your parents. You listen to edgy music, you dress young and hip, you have sex standing up and on kitchen tables, you say "fuck" and "shit" a lot, and then one day, without warning, their words emerge from your mouth like long-dormant sleeper agents suddenly activated. You're still young enough to hear these words through the ears of the teenager sitting beside you, and you realize how pitiful and ultimately futile your efforts will be, a few measly sandbags against the tidal wave of genetic destiny.