Friday, February 5, 2021

Book Review: The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister

Title: The Young Widower's Handbook
Author: Tom McAllister
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Pages: 288
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For Hunter Cady, meeting Kait was the greatest thing that ever happened to him. Otherwise unmotivated, he spent roughly half his twenty-nine years accomplishing very little, which makes him about fifteen in terms of real-life experience. But he’s the luckiest man on earth when it comes to his wife. Beautiful and confident, Kait is somehow charmed by Hunter’s awkwardness and droll humor. So when she dies quite suddenly, Hunter is crushed. Numb with grief, he stumbles forward the only way he knows how: by running away. To the dismay of her family, Hunter takes Kait’s ashes with him and heads west.

They had always meant to travel. Soon enough, he finds himself--and Kait--in encounters with characters even quirkier than he is: an overzealous Renaissance Faire worker; a raucous yet sympathetic troop  of bachelorettes; a Chicago couple and their pet parrot, Elvis. He meets a much older man still searching for the wife who walked out on him years ago. Along the way are glimpses of Hunter and Kait’s beautiful, flawed, very real marriage and the strength it gives Hunter, even when contemplating a future without it. Insightful, wry, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, The Young Widower’s Handbook is a testament to the power of love.

I randomly picked up this book in an indie bookstore because of both the title of the book and the cover. Unsurprising to those who have been reading my reviews, I had no idea what this book was about before I started reading it, but I quickly figured it out at the end of chapter one. This review will contain minor spoilers.

Hunter and Kaitlyn Cady were together for four short years before she unexpectedly died. Reminiscent of Kerouac’s On the Road, in his grief, Hunter took the life insurance money and Kait’s ashes and decided to travel around the country to fulfill Kait’s lifelong wish to travel. With no plan in mind, Hunter went wherever his travels took him. From a very intense Renaissance Fair to a bar where he inadvertently crashed a bachelorette party, to California, Hunter had some very interesting experiences.

Throughout the book, Hunter looks back on his marriage with Kait and we read about the good times they had and the bad times. Personally, I think they had a terrible marriage. I don’t know if McAllister intended for their marriage to be so flawed, but it didn’t seem like Kait really liked Hunter. That’s not to say she didn’t love him, there were just instances where I wondered how they were even together. For example, Kait’s family loves football, but Hunter is indifferent to it. One Sunday, Kait and Hunter hosted a Sunday football watch party at their house. Kait let her brothers kick Hunter out of his own living room because of their superstition. When Hunter and Kait were in bed later that night, he expressed that he hoped they never had to do that again and Kait said that she wished that sometimes Hunter could be more of a man. She also allowed her male family members to make derogatory gay jokes toward Hunter, both in her family home and in their home. She also complained about his negative nature. Also, their entire relationship started out based on a lie. The only reason Kait was initially interested in Hunter was because he led her to believe he’d traveled the world when in reality, he’d gotten all of his information from reading reference books and comments on message boards.

Regardless of my opinions on their marriage, this book was a 4 star read for me. My husband and I have been together since we were teenagers and we got married really young, at 18 and 19. We’ve currently been together for 8 years and married for almost 7 years. My biggest fears are my husband dying and leaving me alone and me dying and leaving him alone, especially at young ages. I couldn’t help but picture us in Hunter and Kait’s shoes throughout the book. I even started shopping around for additional life insurance policies for us. Hunter’s grief was insurmountable and the fact that Kait’s family and his parents were terrible and mostly unhelpful made his grief worse and harder to bear with. This book evoked such strong emotions from me. If my Prozac didn’t suppress my ability to cry, I know I would have soaked the pages with my tears.

The reason this was a 4 star read for me and not a 5 star is because I didn’t feel like Hunter truly resolved anything. I was hoping after he completed his road trip and after he spread Kait’s ashes he would begin to heal and we would see more positivity from him, but there was no character growth in him. He ended as negative as he began. Also, as mentioned previously, there was a lot I didn’t enjoy about Hunter and Kait’s relationship. I was also disturbed at how attached to Kait’s ashes Hunter was. I don’t know if it’s normal to take your spouse’s ashes across the country and dine with them and drink with them, but I’m assuming it’s not. Overall, I do recommend this book. I really did enjoy it. It was my first McAllister book and it may not be my last.