May 22, 2016
Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson
Nonfiction - Memoir
2014 Simon & Schuster
Finished on January 27, 2016
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
In the tradition of The Year of Magical Thinking and What Remains, this breathtaking memoir by a young Army widow shares her heartbreaking, candid story about recovering from her husband’s death.
A world traveler, Artis Henderson dreamed of living abroad after college and one day becoming a writer. Marrying a conservative Texan soldier and being an Army wife was never in her plan. Nor was the devastating helicopter crash that took his life soon after their marriage. On November 6, 2006, the Apache helicopter carrying Artis’s husband Miles crashed in Iraq, leaving her—in official military terms—an “unremarried widow.” She was twenty-six years old.
In Unremarried Widow, Artis gracefully and fearlessly traces the arduous process of rebuilding her life after this loss, from the dark hours following the military notification to the first fumbling attempts at new love. She recounts the bond that led her and Miles to start a life together, even in the face of unexpected challenges, and offers a compassionate critique of the difficulties of military life. In one of the book’s most unexpected elements, Artis reveals how Miles’s death mirrored her own father’s—in a plane crash that she survived when she was five. In her journey through devastation and heartbreak, Artis is able to reach a new understanding with her widowed mother and together they find solace in their shared loss.
But for all its raw emotion and devastatingly honest reflections, this is more than a grief memoir. Delivered in breathtaking prose, Unremarried Widow is a celebration of the unlikely love between two very different people and the universality of both grief and hope.
Some readers shy away from sad stories. The death of a spouse, child or pet are topics that most people aren't comfortable talking about, let alone reading books whose main focus is the grief one faces with such losses. I, for some morbid reason, am drawn to these narratives. Perhaps losing a child and a parent has made me more curious about how others deal with their own grief; perhaps I am subconsciously comparing their grief to mine.
I came across Artis Henderson's memoir in the ARC stack at work one day and took the book home before even glancing at the back cover or publisher's letter to booksellers. I had a gut feeling it was something I'd want to read (Note, I didn't say enjoy, because rarely does one enjoy such a book.) and added it to my stacks. It turns out I was right. Unremarried Widow is a engrossing memoir that reads like fiction. I rarely stay awake more than 15-20 minutes at night while reading in bed, but Henderson's debut kept me wide awake for well over an hour. On the first night, I finally turned the light off at 11:00 pm, but could have easily read the entire book (242 pages) in one day.
For a book about death, Unremarried Widow is a page-turner, filled with raw honesty and beautiful prose. We know the outcome from the opening pages, yet the details are compelling and heartbreaking. The author has always dreamed of becoming a writer and I think she can safely say that she's achieved that goal. I will eagerly seek out her next book.