The Widows of Wichita County
It’s not often that I finish a story with multiple primary characters and feel satisfied that I know each of them as well as I’d like, but Jodi Thomas more than delivers the goods in The Widows of Wichita County.
When an oil rig explosion in Clifton Creek, Texas, leaves only one survivor, too badly burned to be easily identified, five women who are mostly strangers are brought together to share the vigil in the hospital waiting room. While they wait to hear which of their husbands still lives, they share enough to provide a glimpse into their characters and their marriages, but also forge a commitment to support each other in the aftermath of this inexplicable tragedy.
The reader is easily pulled into their stories. First of all, by wondering which of the women will be most devastated by the loss of her partner, and which one best able to bear the strain of the lone survivor’s long recuperation. Will it be Randi Howard, the party girl who wants some unidentified “more” than three marriages have so far provided? Perhaps it will be Meredith Allen, the disillusioned schoolteacher whose greatest joy comes from the classroom. Helena Whitworth is not only a respected community matriarch and businesswoman, but she had already survived two husbands before finally finding her soulmate. Crystal Howard is Randi’s old running buddy, now the trophy wife of a prominent businessman whose grown son and daughter hate her. Finally, there’s Anna Montano, the “blooded” wife secured for dynastic purposes, along with a selection of thoroughbreds her prominent family raised on a ranch in Italy.
Once the sole survivor has been identified, each woman must figure out how to go on, battling not only grief and guilt but the other people in her life who want to stake some claim on how the future will play out. Through it all, the “widows” cling to their new-found support group, finding as much comfort in helping the others as they receive in kind from them. For some of the women, there are new possibilities for love, or something like it. For others, there are new opportunities for life beyond Clifton Creek. For one, life is encapsulated in the recovery of her critically injured husband, and a chance to forge a deeper, shared commitment never dreamed of before. As the Jobeth Williams character from The Big Chill might say, “There’s a certain symmetry” to how the story evolves.
Thomas takes some chances here that worked very well. Her primary characters are not faultless, and sometimes act in completely self-serving ways; but their actions are realistic and very understandable. And the resolution for one of the “widows” will most likely cause more than one reader pause, though I found it believable and, in its way, very appropriate.
We get small glimpses into who the husbands were; not bad men, necessarily, though sometimes the source of disillusionment for the women they married. And through the inner monologues of the survivor, we come to understand a great many things, not the least of which is the subtle way he comes to appreciate the surprising gift of life he has received. One of the new love interests was a bit quirky in a way I didn’t really understand. Another was my favorite kind of hero, a supposed bad boy who bears little actual resemblance to the reputation he had acquired years before.
To say more would be to reveal too much, and this is a story I very much enjoyed reading with no preconceptions. It’s an engaging story that says much about how women relate to men and to each other. And although the romances did not pack as much emotional wallop as I would have liked, I highly recommend Thomas’ first foray into contemporary Women’s Fiction.