In a quirky farmhouse outside Boston, 70-year-old Percy Darling enjoys a vigorous but mostly solitary life — until, in a complex scheme to help his oldest daughter through a crisis, he allows a progressive preschool to move into his barn. The abrupt transformation of Percy’s rural refuge into a lively, youthful community compels him to reexamine the choices he’s made since his wife’s death, three decades ago, in a senseless accident that haunts him still. No longer can he remain aloof from his neighbors, his two grown daughters, or, to his shock, the precarious joy of falling in love. With equal parts affection and satire, Julia Glass spins a captivating tale about the loyalties, rivalries, and secrets of a very particular family.
1. From the stories characters remember and tell, what kind of mother was Poppy?
2. How do Percy's age, background and profession shape the way he thinks about the world around him? How do others describe Percy, and how does he describe himself?
3. By the end of the novel, how has Percy changed/evolved?
4. Why has Percy not been with any women since Poppy's death? Is it habit and routine, nostalgia and commitment to his wife, or guilt over her death; or a combination of all three?
5. Why is the novel called The Widower's Tale? What do you think of this allusion to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales?
6. This is a novel about family and the intricacies of the intertwining relationships between family members. Discuss and compare some of the central familial relationships in the novel.
7. Discuss the importance of the tree house in the novel. What does it represent, if anything, for the four main characters?
8. How have libraries changed over the course of Percy's working in one, through his youth, his daughter's youths, and now Robert's youth? Percy doesn't seem to approve of the direction libraries are going. Do you?
9. "Daughters. This word meant everything to me in that moment: sun, moon, stars, blood, water (oh curse the water!), meat, potatoes, wine, shoes, books, the floor beneath my feet, the roof over my head." (page 109). Compare and contrast Percy's two daughters.
10. While visiting a museum, Percy's friend asks, "What sort of landscape are you?" And Percy replies, "A field. Overgrown and weedy." "Or a very large, gnarled tree," his friend adds. (pages 281-82) How would you describe him?