Here’s What I thought About
Widow’s Walk by Ken Weene is a book about tragedy, love, passion, faith and how they seem to get all tangled together at times in the minds of humans who seek love, but who are torn by the battles raging inside of us. We all want to find the real meaning of our lives. Faith in God very often plays a primary role in a person’s life as they seek to deal with the difficult things that sweep over them and the unexpected moments of euphoria that periodically engulf us us. Mary Flanagan is no different and her needy heart is something that any reader will easily relate to, making it easy to place oneself in the story.
In Widow’s walk, Mary Flanagan finds herself caught between her sense of religious faith and compulsion in her own private life in her personal desire for love and life that could sustain her through some very deep trials. Mary’s struggle for truth and desire is in emotional conflict, making her struggles even more intense from her feelings of guilt and conviction at having contravened her beliefs that had kept her life walking down the straight path and her need of love and passion.
Perhaps the most dangerous times in one’s life are those moments when we cannot understand why all the divergent winds of blow around our heads. Mary Flanagan demonstrates a profound sense of loneliness and sorrow when she is faced with getting on with the rest of her life after becoming a widow. Her crisis of faith, life and identity only relent when she met Arnie Berger, who became her lover and soul mate, and who seems to transform Mary’s world by the possibility of finding love and desire, which was like rain for her parched soul.
In Widow’s Walk, Ken Weene uses a lot of excellent descriptions to paint some very deep-seated feelings that begin to plague Mary in her new relationship. She begins the most profound of journeys as she seeks to find the true meaning of love while handling her family’s own struggles with disabilities and quadriplegia. Widow’s Walk gives a very vivid depiction of how rough it can be for a woman, a widow, a mother to get on with her lives as she hunts for ways to control the storms that are tossing her to and fro in her personal life while her children wrestle with their own disasters and who are trapped in their own dilemmas; it is often far more difficult than for a man. Again, this theme and Ken Weene’s ability to weave in a good dose of emotion and regret will make the reader look inward and apply the feelings unfairness and personal difficulty to themselves, which makes for a page turner.
Mary’s son, Sean, a quadriplegic, is looking for a satisfying life in the midst of great physical and emotion, seemingly fruitless effort. Mary’s daughter, Kathleen is coping with infertility and resentment in her search for contentment while feeling cheated by her inability to become a mother. The result is that the lives of Mary and her two children are turned upside down by adversity, pleasure and catastrophe.
If you enjoy reading a story that will touch your inner being and which speaks to all of us who have sought to make our lives something that has profound meaning, then I highly recommend Widow’s Walk by Ken Weene. Women who are facing similar
circumstances will gain a lot of insight from this story and men will perhaps have a greater appreciation for women who struggle to care for their children after the husband and father are gone, due either to death or infidelity. This book is a true human interest story that will get a reader’s reflective powers flowing. I highly recommend Widow’s Walk by Ken Weene.
About the Author Kenneth Weene
A New Englander by upbringing and inclination, Ken Weene’s career – primarily in New York – included teaching, pastoral care, and psychology. Throughout his career Ken has also been devoted to writing. His poetry has appeared in a number of publications – both print and web. He authored a number of professional publications. His short stories and essays have also been published. One of his short plays was recently workshopped. An anthology of Ken’s work, Songs For My Father, was published 2002. His novel, Widow’s Walk, has been published in 2009. Ken and his wife, Roz, now live in greater Phoenix where he spends much of his time writing.
Here’s What the Author
Thinks about Widow’s Walk
1. Your story is a very powerful human interest story that digs into the private lives of people. Could you tell us why you were drawn to such a story and what the back story might be to your book?
I have always been interested in the human story – in the motivations, emotions, inner conflicts, and internal dialogs of the people around me. As a psychologist and pastoral counselor I spend my professional career striving to better listen and understand. Writing
Widow’s Walk has been another way for me to explore those aspects of the human condition.
Sean, Mary’s son, was the first character to start me thinking about this story. I had helped to motivate a young man who had been similarly paralyzed to leave home and seek rehabilitation. He returned with a career, a wife, and a baby. I felt that my efforts had truly mattered. I wanted to tell that story and encourage others to face adversity. Widow’s Walk grew from there. As much as I cared about Sean and his story, Mary became the lead character. As great as Sean’s challenges might have been, hers were more of the heart and soul. The depth of her struggle to find herself became a mirror for that struggle as I had so often seen it others – and in myself.
At first I had not intended Arnie to be a love interest. He was supposed to be more of a tutor, someone who could help Mary intellectually. But, that was not to be. They fell in love before I could control the situation. I’m glad they did. Love is so often the motivation that brings meanings to our lives.
2. The people you describe reminded me a lot of my own people where I grew up in rural Indiana. Since a writer's characters usually reflect people with whom we have lived or whom we have known. Could you tell us who the main characters might reflect in your own life?
“We are all more nearly human than otherwise.” That was said by Harry Stack Sullivan, a great psychiatric thinker. I try to keep that in mind whenever I write. Characters should be human. I try to draw on parts of myself and parts of the people I have known best. However, it is difficult to say this character’s personality is based on that old friend or family member. Typically I see those similarities more in the minor characters than the central figures in the book. For example, the motel clerk with whom Arnie and Mary talk on their trip to Maine is very much like Edsel; Edsel operated a store down the road from my parents’ camp in Maine. I could hear his inflections as I wrote the words. I should add that I really liked him.
Jem, too, is much clearer in my mind than say Mary or Arnie or Sean. We had a cook at camp – hard working, honest, and caring. She was from the South and had grown up with similar hardships to Jem’s. She, too, had a deeper and spiritual sense of others than the better educated people around her.
Much of Amelia’s character is based on one of my favorite aunts - her life and attitude much changed, but her style, definitely.
But, the main characters are much more their own personalities. I am a conduit; they come to life and then reach the page through me. It’s almost as if I’m channeling them.
This is not to say I can’t point out some similarities and connections to people in my past. I had a colleague when I taught at Northeastern who was very inspired by Auntie Mame. My clarinet teacher introduced me to the European style of Newbury Street. Some of Danny’s style is based on my brother. Oh, yes, the globe at The Christian Science Church, I was fascinated by that after a friend of my parents brought me there. As I write this answer, I realize that I have brought forth a great cast of characters.
3. One of the main points of conflict is Mary’s deep commitment to her faith and her human desire for Arnie, the man she falls in love with. This could relate to any of us who have battled the waves of emotion in our lives. Could you tell us what drove you to delve into this battle between the spirit and the flesh and perhaps some of your own battles you have known from a similar vein?
First, let me say that the battle between flesh and spiritual concern is one of the most universal of issues of human existence. On the one side we have our animal desires and basic emotions. On the other side we have the teachings of church and family – and the laws, which are internalized by most of us and called the conscience. What chaos would reign if we didn’t have that conscience to stop us from taking what is not ours, sleeping with the other person’s mate, abusing children, hurting and killing. Yet, who has never felt those unacceptable urges?
Of course, sometimes those urges aren’t really so bad. Certainly Mary’s love for Arnie is a beautiful thing. Perhaps the love scenes between them become all the sweeter because we know how both of them have dealt with the issue of sexuality.
For me, I have always had to battle with anger. I would try too hard to please the other person and then be enraged when they didn’t respond with the love I wanted. I won’t go into the psychoanalytic understanding I have of that issue. I am exploring it in a play on which I have been working.
4. Mary made some big and profound decisions concerning the relationship of her soul and the relationship she craved. What were Mary’s motivations in seeking out her lover; was she driven by passion, loneliness or a strong desire for someone to give her direction in her life?
Mary’s greatest motivation is perhaps the most sacred of all, the natural desire to grow, to become, and to find meaning. Sean’s decision frees Mary for that moment. It is the freedom to see and move toward the light. It is the freedom that is implicit in birth as we leave the womb and in death, which so many who have reported near-death experiences have talked about. However, there can be other moments of such potential growth and change. When we experience them, they enrapture us.
The opportunity to become is first experienced kneeling in prayer. However, it finds far more expression in the questions that she is now ready to ask. Obviously, she also experiences love for Arnie. While her marriage had been in a practical and friendly way one of love, there had not been the melding of souls and passion that is potentially there for us all.
I don’t think Mary is motivated by loneliness. For her the need for companionship has always been met in her relationship with God. Similarly, her faith had always given her all the direction she might have needed.
5. This story could be described as a tale of transformation in Mary’s life. Could you tell us how Mary’s relationship with Arnie changed her own personal life and how this might apply to your own life?
The brilliant illumination of self that Mary experiences during those first months of her relationship with Arnie is wonderful and heady stuff. That in some ways it proves ephemeral makes it all the more human. In the end the power of that transformative experience may have even been too great. Beyond that I don’t want to give too much away.
In my own life there have been a few relationships that have truly been transformative. Foremost has certainly been my marriage of over 41 years. Through it I have learned my own capacity to love and my own lovability. I give my wife a lot of credit for anything good I might have to offer the world.
I also have been transformed by my relationship with our son. In psychology we use the word generativity to talk about the quality that allows us to nurture towards independence. I think David allowed me to develop that quality.
But, some relationships offer opportunity for transformation without being long and committed. Jem transforms Sean. Max transforms Kathleen. I’ve also had such short-term but powerful contacts in my life.
We are all like flowers – holding within the potential for growth. The nutrients of our relationships with others can help us to flourish, but sometimes they can be too strong, to concentrate, or just not quite mixed together in the right ratios. The characters in Widow’s Walk mirror the struggle that we all face to reach our possibilities.
6. Widow’s Walk seems also to be a story of great tragedy and hardship. Mary’s children all faced dilemmas and tragedies of their own ranging from one as quadriplegic to infertility. Would you please describe how Mary’s relationship with Arnie also changed and transformed Mary’s children’s lives?
Knowing Arnie had a profound effect on Mary and on her family. If there had been no Arnie what would have happened to the Flanagans? Sean would have married Karen and come back to Boston. That had been their plan all along. But, can you imagine the old, dogma-bound Mary’s reaction when she first learns that they have married, that Karen is pregnant? The first she learns about it is from the motel clerk. Then Sean and Karen come from their room. I don’t think that moment would have gone well. Mary would have been angry and, worse, judgmental.
Once she was over the shock, Mary would have tried to be a dutiful grandmother. Responsibility in the sense of doing right was so central to her being. And, she would have irritated and alienated Karen by her insistence on all those “right,” dogma-based answers. Certainly there would have been great disagreement over that first grandchild’s baptism. Karen would never have agreed to a Catholic service, and Mary would never have agreed to Protestant. Sean, caught in the middle, would have been miserable.
Without Arnie’s effect on her mother, I doubt Kathleen would ever have felt free enough to meet someone. She would probably never have even considered the possibility – settling for the life of service and misery to which she had already condemned herself. Of course, as things turned out that may have been a good thing. More importantly from my point of view, without Arnie’s effect on Mary and the family Kathleen may never have shared her contact with Max, with me, and therefore with the readers.
7. What would you say is the most profound life lesson you sought to reveal through your very human and emotional story?
Life is, if not a banquet, at least an experience. We should explore it and savor it. To do less is to cheat ourselves and deny our responsibility to God. But, how do we savor that experience? To get the most out of life, we have to ask questions – to constantly ask ourselves what matters. It isn’t the answers that matter as much as the queries.
Of all the issues in Widow’s Walk that demand our attention it is the defining of our relationship with God that stands out. In Widow’s Walk Max, a bishop, a parish priest, and a Presbyterian minister all give their views on that subject; but in the end, I have tried to challenge the reader to wrestle with that basic existential question.
I do not sugarcoat the issue with happy endings and simple conclusions. We all know that bad things happen to good people. We all realize that tomorrow is unknowable. Still, we have to live and we need to decide what it is that we believe.
8. What are you currently working on for your next book?
There is another novel, Memoirs From the Asylum, which is written and almost ready for publication. It is a very dramatic and powerful book. A third novel, Times To Try The Soul of Man, is also written. That one is a conspiracy novel.
Besides working on fine-tuning those novels, I’m working on a play - a very personal and psychoanalytically based work. I’ve also been trying to get started on a non-fiction book, one about the theory of politics.
Here’s an Excerpt from
Widow’s Walk by Ken Weene
Mary Flanagan pushes her glasses back on her nose. Then, with well-practiced ease, she slips her hands under her graying brown hair where it covers her ears and fluffs it out. These are customary gestures when she is concerned, what gamblers might call her tell.
“Christ hae mercy,” she says. It is Mary’s strongest oath, one that she has used only three times before. She can remember those times well.
“Christ hae mercy,” she had said when she was told that her son, Sean Jr., would be returning from Vietnam a quadriplegic. His jeep had hit a mine and rolled over with him trapped beneath. His neck had been broken leaving him with only a slight amount of movement in his right arm, barely enough to operate the electric wheelchair which the Veterans Administration provided and which is now sitting unused and uncharged in his bedroom. Now he sits, as he does most days, watching television. The wheelchair in which he is sitting is one that Mary had purchased because it would be lighter for her to push.
“Christ hae mercy,” she had said when she was told her hus-band, Sean Sr., had died of a stroke while driving his M.T.A. bus down Massachusetts Avenue. The bus had careened off a tele-phone pole and crashed into two parked cars. One pedestrian had died. Some of the passengers had been injured, some severely and some less so. Sean had been dead on arrival at Cambridge City Hospital.
“Christ hae mercy,” she had said when her daughter, Kathleen, told her that she had lost the baby that she had so longed for. The doctors told her there would never be another pregnancy, a pro-nouncement that both Kathleen and Mary had tried to take with practiced Catholic stoicism. John, the would-be father, had not been so stoical. He had left his wife and remarried outside the church – a secretary at his office, a woman desired by many who did not know her.
“Kathleen, you’re still married in the eyes of God,” Mary had counseled with fervor. Kathleen, having given up hope for hus-band and child, took a job practical-nursing at The Sisters of Mercy Home for the Incurable, a hospice with a dramatic and palatial presence near Boston College and a reputation for providing loving care for terminal patients – especially those with contagious diseas-es.
Now, for the fourth time, Mary Flanagan is taking the Lord’s name in vain. At least that is her feeling about it. As the words pass her lips, she knows that tomorrow she will go to confession rather than wait until her usual Friday visit. She knows that Father Frank will, of course, laugh at her sense of sin. He more often than not does. “Mary,” he will say. “It’s hardly taking the Lord’s name in vain to ask for mercy. It’s part of the mass itself.” “It isn’t the words, Ferther, but the way I said them,” Mary will respond with her Irish accent still intact after living most of her sixty-three years in Boston. “It was an oath, and that I swear to.” This she will say and cross herself with solemnity.
Then, to appease her guilt, Father Frank will give her a penance, which he’ll already know will be doubled or even tripled. “She suffers from such religious pride,” the priest will reflect as Mary leaves the confessional, “but that is beyond her grasp.” He’ll think this and shrug his shoulders in resignation.
That comes tomorrow. Right now Mary is dealing with the news. Her friend and confidante of thirty some years is leaving Boston, going to Florida to live with her sister. “I can’t take any more of the snow, Mary. It leaves my bones aching. My sister says it’s almost never cold in Fort Lauderdale, and they have electric heat just in case. Imagine, never being cold.” Lois pauses for a moment.
“You know, Mary, you and Sean could move to Florida, too. It would be a lot easier for you, and Sean would be able to go out more.”
This last comment was, they both knew, ridiculous since Sean never went out except for his medical appointments at the V.A. Hospital in Brookline. Then she would call an ambulette, which would take him to the hospital entrance and whisk him home again as if he were hermetically sealed off from the world of the able-bodied. And, of course Mary takes him to church, to mass. Mary, with diligent resistance, considers her friend’s suggestion.
“I cannot leave Sean’s grave and go to Florida. I have my duty. And, there’s Kathleen. Would you ask me to leave my daugh-ter without a home?” It is true that Mary visits her husband’s grave as often as she can, bringing with her a small bunch of flowers to leave by the headstone. It is not true that Kathleen considers this her home. In fact, she has not visited this immaculate house since her husband had left and Mary had made her pronouncement of required eternal marital fidelity. In that pronouncement the church had alienated mother and daughter in a way that neither of them could ever discuss. Mary knows this because every night she kneels on the small, worn blue rug by her bed, eyes fixed on the “Bleeding Heart” and speaks to God of her sorrow. She offers her pain up to Him and for the redemption of her lost husband’s soul.
“No, Lois, I’ll miss you awful. But this is my home. This is the house that Sean and I made ours, and I plan to die here.”
“Momma.” The young man’s voice is soft and labored.
“Yes, Sean, my darling.”
“I need to use the facilities.” Mary gets to her feet slowly – with the weight of years and sorrows. Carefully, meditating every step, she pushes her son’s chair into the kitchen with its time-scarred pine cabinets and faded furnishings, and across the off-green linoleum floor to the door that had once led to the garage and which now connects to his bedroom with its carefully designed bathroom.
Mary had had the garage converted into a bedroom and bath-room for Sean so that he could stay in the house. The rooms had been designed with space for his chair and hoists to help move him about. Without those mechanical devices, Mary could not have helped him. Her body no longer has the strength that had once allowed her to raise her children, do the housework, and take in laundry to add a few dollars to the family budget.
She slips a harness around her son’s inert body, and an electric motor hoists him upright. She pulls down his pajama pants and then slowly lowers him, keeping him positioned with one hand, onto the toilet. When he has finished, she raises him again, cleans his behind carefully with pre-moistened wipes as if he were an infant, spreads a protective salve, pulls up his pajama bottoms, and then – ever so carefully lowers him into his chair.
Sitting in the blue club chair, her head resting on a painstaking-ly crocheted doily, Lois waits in silence. Her eyes rest on the red and white bisque plant, an anniversary gift of long ago. She doesn’t bother to look about, for she knows the room and knows that it holds neither secrets nor excitements. She knows from experience that this bathroom routine will take at least twenty minutes. That is of no concern. She also knows that the embarrassment it costs the young man is beyond calculation. The pain that it causes her friend, Lois knows, is also beyond her understanding; but she knows that this pain, like all of Mary’s others, will be offered up without complaint.
Lois wonders how it is possible in a world run by a just God that the active young man whom she had once watched climbing the neighborhood trees, playing stick ball in the streets, and skitch-ing behind cars along icy streets has been reduced to this impotent mass. It is also a source of wonder for her that he continues to live now that he can do so little to help himself. It is, in Lois’s mind, a cruel trick of God to have so burdened a saint such as Mary Flana-gan. Then, Lois has never been that much a fan of God. Her own life has given no proof of divine love, only of life’s pain.
Mary, Lois knows, is another story altogether – devout enough for all of Boston’s Irish. If souls can be prayed from purgatory, then Mary has rescued untold numbers. But that is not what has made Lois her friend. Lois values Mary Flanagan because she is decent and kind. Behind the well-worn quality of Mary’s life, Lois senses those qualities of propriety and care. But there are some things more, some things which Lois can not quite define. If forced she would mention courage, yes courage, and … and, yes, intelligence.
Lois sits patiently until Sean is once again in front of the televi-sion. He is watching reruns of “I Love Lucy.” Over the years it has seemed to her that Sean has only liked reruns, reruns from his childhood. Often she has pondered the why of this. “Perhaps,” she thinks, “in those shows he can lose himself, he can make believe that he is once again whole.”
“I’ll miss you something fierce,” Mary comments after she has settled herself on the faded red sofa. “I know that, dear.” “I’ll miss you, too,” Sean adds somewhat surprisingly. “You’re our only visitor.” That is true enough. Over the years Mary and Sean’s friends and family have slowly disappeared from their lives. Now, only Lois comes to see them. Many days even the postman doesn’t come. They receive almost no mail other than bills, Social Security and veterans’ checks, and third class mail addressed to occupant...
What One Reader Has Said
Extraordinary Lives, September 19, 2009
Micki Peluso (New York, USA)
Widow's Walk by Kenneth Weene is one of the best narrative novels that I have had the pleasure of reading. Mary Flanagan seems at first a typical Irish-American Catholic matriarch. But she is so much more. To Mary, her deep faith in God and her Church sets her life on a charted journey, so tightly mapped that she has become her Church. Even her personal habit of cleaning her glasses and fluffing her hair is a rigid pattern--never changing throughout her life. For Mary, so much of her hard, often empty life, is set in black and white and she cannot, will not accept shades of gray. Her children seem molded from the same clay until desperation enables her son, Sean, a quadriplegic, courtesy of the Vietnam War, to take a chance on living again. Her daughter, Kathleen, held captive by grief due the loss of her baby and to her mother's stern religious rites, will require time to reclaim her own broken life.
Micki Peluso, author of . . . AND THE WHIPPOORWILL SANG
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