Coping with the loss of a spouse is often one of the most difficult challenges in life, and it doesn't matter if the spouse dies young, middle aged, old or somewhere in between. It is a heart breaking journey for the survivor made even more so if he was still deeply in love with his wife.
Although I have not suffered this loss and hope that I never do, as a child, I witnessed the devastation it caused to the aunt that raised my father when her husband of 76 years died without warning of a heart attack. It was as if someone had taken a knife to my father's beloved aunt and carved out half of her soul.
I also witnessed my mother's grief decades later when my father died after more than fifty years of marriage. She lived for another decade and suffered every day from his loss.
In "Getting Oriented", we are introduced to Phil Fletcher, who has lost his wife of more than 30 years. Her death was unexpected. She was in good health and was out jogging when a car hit her.
The depression caused by her loss has caused Phil to feel as if he has no purpose in life. He misses her and writes letters to her, which he saves on his laptop. Then months after her death, he loses his job. Since he is in his fifties, one would think this double blow would be enough to kill him too, but Phil and his wife planned carefully and he is financially secure.
Then Jake, an old college friend, offers him a job as a tour guide in Japan, and Phil is perfect for the job. When he served in the US military decades earlier, he learned to speak, write and read Japanese and accepts Jake's offer.
Phil's job in Japan is to shepherd ten middle-class Americans, and it seems to be the right medicine to help him recover from the loss of his wife, whom he will never forget.
Right from the start, Phil learns that being a tour guide is not as easy as one might suspect. Ann, an evangelical Christian and the oldest woman on the tour, warns Phil that Jesse and Sharleen, another couple on the tour, may be planning a double suicide while in Japan since Sharleen is dying of cancer and have weeks or months to live.
Then there is Audrey and Freddie Korch—two sisters. Freddie arrived in Japan several days before the tour started and picked up a Japanese lover in Nagasaki. His name is Kurotani and he appears to be a member of the Yakuza, the Japanese mob. Soon, it is obvious that the belligerent and moody Freddie is being addicted to a Japanese drug supplied by her lover and the drug is called Shabu, known as meth or speed in the West. Shabu is illegal in Japan. Get caught selling or using it and you will go to jail.
If that is not enough of a challenge, Louise, an attractive single woman, attempts to seduce Phil, but his grief at the loss of his wife gets in the way and he rejects her advances. However, this gets him thinking, and a few days later, when Julia comes to his hotel room, Phil cannot resist her and they have an affair. To make matters worse, Julia is not single. Her husband Sal, who is on his third marriage, is on the tour too, but he drinks too much and does not appear physically attracted to his wife. When Jake learns of Phil's affair with Julia, he worries that it might result in a lawsuit against his travel agency if Sal discovers what is going on.
As the plot thickens, Phil contacts two Japanese friends, Setsuko and her husband Kazuo. They meet for dinner and Setsuko introduces Phil to an attractive Japanese widow by the name of Mariko, and Phil is tempted to stay in Japan after the tour ends to connect with her.
Besides the multiple plot complications, there is the added treat of being taken on a rewarding tour of Japan. The author, Wally Wood, weaves flawless scenes of Japan while the group moves from site to site. These scenes are rich with history and sensory details that elevate the story to a level beyond the average novel providing a rich textual experience for readers. I highly recommend "Getting Oriented".
This novel would easily adapt to film, which I would pay to see. The copy of "Getting Oriented" that I read was supplied free by the author as a Kindle e-book.