an available man

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An Available Man
304 pages; Ballantine Books
Edward Schuyler, a reserved science teacher whose idea of a fine evening is ironing his dead wife's clothes ("It was oddly comforting to smooth the wrinkles out of her blouses, to restore their collapsed bosoms and sleeves") finds that, just months after becoming a widower, he is suddenly a hot item. His reluctant reentry into the singles scene after 20 happy years of marriage drives the plot of Hilma Wolitzer's tender, witty novel, An Available Man (Ballantine). The story spotlights an uncomfortable cultural reality: While women's romantic options tend to narrow with age, men's choices expand. Edward's female friends either try to fix him up or hit on him. When his stepchildren secretly place a personal ad for him, 46 women reply. Edward is mortified by the ad, but he's also lonely and missing sex. So he goes on a few blind dates that tend toward the broadly comic: An abrasive overachiever ("good-looking in a hard-edged, female-action-figure sort of way") assumes their disastrous evening will end in bed; a teary widow shows him her wedding photo at brunch. But while Wolitzer celebrates the humor in these scenes, she also shows compassion for her characters, who stumble through life and love like the rest of us. Smart and poignant, An Available Man explores some universal truthsthat the past is never past, life is for the living, and dating is really, really hard.
— Karen Holt