Thursday, January 9, 2014

book review: Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson

The basics: After surviving the plane crash that killed her father when she was 5, Artis Henderson recounts losing her husband during a helicopter crash in the Iraq War.

My thoughts: I'm a huge fan of The New York Times Modern Love column. When I heard Artis Henderson, whose Modern Love column I cried throughout, published a memoir expanding on the topic of losing her husband, I knew I wanted to read it, even if war widow memoirs aren't typically a genre at the top of my list. And I'm so glad I did. It's a good thing the reader knows about the joint tragedies in Artis's life from the book's beginnings, becuase Henderson still packs an emotinoal punch. As I read, I was crying hard enough I had to leave my bed, where my husband peacefully slept, to go downstairs where I could read and sob in peace.

I'm not necessarily drawn to stories of tragedy, but I immediately connected with Artis as I read. She and I are almost exactly the same age, and I easily imagined my life in the early 2000's. Our dreams at that were so clearly aligned: "As long as I could remember, I had wanted to be a writer. I had this Hemingway-inspired fantasy of living overseas and writing, and I had imagined a life filled with art and literature and well-traveled friends." She writes about her younger self with such honesty and insight. There's the duality of remembering the naivete of her early twenties but not being dimissive of it. Henderson seamlessly fuses the past and present in this memoir into a unified voice.

The first half of this memoir tells the story of how Artis and Miles fell in love. Even knowing how the story ends, it was a love story that swept me away. It isn't an idealized fairy tale, and Artis recounts it with love and authenticity. She doesn't shy away from their hardships and doubts. I credit her bravery for being able to write with the appropriate honesty and distance. The memoir's second half had me constantly crying. I moved between soft tears running down my face and full-on ugly cries. I am so very glad I read it in the privacy of my own home where I could fully embrace the feelings reading this book gave me.

Favorite passage: "I needed them to acknowledge not just that he had died but that he had lived. That he had lived and loved me and for a space of time we were whole. But I am lying. Even now I struggle to tell the truth of what I needed."

The verdict: Artis Henderson writes with both a critical distance and an emotional honesty. It's as much a modern love story as it is the story of a young woman's life. Unremarried Widow is a brave, harrowing, emotional, gripping memoir I won't soon forget.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: January 7, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Unremarried Widow from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Artis Henderson's website and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. I have this one at home, from BEA. Looking forward to reading it.

  2. This sounds really good, but not for me right now. I cried my way through A Year of Magical Thinking and An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination in much the same way that you describe. I also had the same feeling of connection with a memoir I just finished: Blue Plate Special by Kate Christensen, who is just about my same age. Although our actual lives were very different, I understood where she was coming from the whole time, if that makes any sense.


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