Jenkins never dreamed he’d live long enough to be dating again. Old folks acting like teenagers was unheard of in his parents’ generation. Less than two years after his beloved wife’s death, Jenkins finds himself sheepishly slinking past her portrait to take another woman out to the movies. With good (and sometimes not-so-good) memories of his youth, Jenkins recalls his dating experiences through the decades — and finds that he is still no wiser than a schoolboy. Especially when he learns his high school grad date is back in town and newly widowed. Will she be the same sweet Janie who made his grad night perfect or will age have taken its toll? Things don’t look good when her son greets him at the door with a list of rules. The tables have turned and the parents are now the children. Boomers will connect on many levels with this outrageously funny portrayal of their generation grappling with the realities of old age.
"Astutely crafted and amusing."
- Gene Walz, The Winnipeg Free Press
"A comic look at a generation grappling with aging bodies and young hearts."
- Tara Seel, Cenral Plains Herald-Leader
"Dating is packed with local flavour, from the 1950 flood and cottage life at Victoria Beach to a University of Manitoba "grads' farewell" at the Marlborough Hotel."
- Alison Mayes, The Winnipeg Free Press
"Smart, funny, and at times poignant, Dating is part love story, part social history, part coming-of-age novel....clever, touching, and always hilarious. Jenkins’s voice stayed with me long after I’d finished."
-- Prism Magazine
In Dating, Dave Williamson often "sketches a world that elicits the smile or even the giggle of recognition."
-- Literary Reveiw of Canada
This novel is an enjoyable romp through later middle age -- it's about time this stage of life was explored -- and the pursuit of romantic happiness.
-- Prairie Fire Review of Books
- Dating is a widower’s story, an account of life in the backwash of death, and a document of changing times. It offers the reader an acute blend of comedy and social history. Dave Williamson has created a generous and sharply observed study of how sexual desire in youth and age have more in common than might ever be guessed.—David Helwig
- I’ve been reading Dave Williamson’s fiction for twenty years, and this novel is his best yet. It’s fast, youthful, clever, sexy, and hysterically funny — and with a steady stream, at just the right spots, of surprising moves, twists, and turns that only an expert writer with an expert writer’s eye and ear and sense of timing can make.
The dialogue is unbeatable, the characters and situations are totally believable, the book is as clear and readable and, yes, funny, and at just the right moments, poignant, as any I’ve read in many years.
—Stephen Dixon, author of Story of a Story and Other Stories: a Novel (Fugue State Press)
Suggested Book Club Questions for Dating: a novel
- Dating is narrated in the first person entirely from the point of view of one character, Jenkins. To what extent does this limit what the reader can know? What situations in the novel might benefit—or at least might be of special interest—if they were seen from another point of view? Give specific examples.
- How do you personally feel about first-person narration? In what ways do you feel it enhances, or detracts from, your reading of Dating?
- To what extent does Dating give an accurate portrayal of morality in the 1950s? Nowadays? In Winnipeg? In the western world?
- It has been said that Dating is the story of one man’s life as seen through his dates. Discuss the accuracy of this and whether we can determine a person’s character in this way.
- What part does anticipation play in a person’s enjoyment of an upcoming event or potential relationship? In Dating, which dates live up to Jenkins’s expectations, which ones surpass his expectations, and which turn out to be disappointing? Which of these prove to have lasting effects on him?
- In her 1973 memoir Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties, novelist Joyce Maynard wrote, “The death of the formal date (with dinner and the theatre, high heels and a good-night kiss afterward) has put a new ambiguity on male-female relationships.” To what extent is this borne out in Dating? Give examples of formal dates in Williamson’s novel. Would Jenkins agree that the formal date is dead? Give evidence to back up your answer. What was dating like in your day?
- Jenkins reflects upon kissing and petting, how his kissing ability gave him some stature and how petting was, in the old days, “an end in itself.” How do these observations compare with your own take on past dating? What part do they play in Jenkins’s later relationships?
- One female reader of Dating said it captured the awkwardness of dating in Winnipeg in the 60s (when she dated) and the fear of dating now, in her 60s, as a widow. Explain how the novel affected you and what it conjured up for you as far as your past or present experience is concerned.
- Williamson has said that, in writing comic fiction, he tries for the kind of humour that comes from self-recognition—the reader nodding, smiling and even laughing at a situation or passage that seems to articulate his or her own experience. To what extent do you feel he succeeded as far as your own reading of Dating is concerned? Explain.
- In her academic treatise, By Himself: The Older Man’s Experience of Widowhood, Deborah K. van den Hoonaard says that men who have lost their wives find ways to protect or bolster their masculinity. For example, they avoid calling themselves widowers and instead see themselves as single again—or bachelors—for which their role models are themselves when they were young. In Dating, how does Jenkins see himself? How does his story compare with van den Hoonaard’s findings?
- A simplified explanation of irony in literature is that it stresses the paradoxical nature of reality or the contrast between an ideal and an actual condition, usually to comic effect. Pick out some examples of irony in Dating.
- Compare and contrast the varying portraits of women in Dating: Janie, Barbara, Mary, Marcia, Liz/Betty, Iris, Maude.
- In what ways does Williamson use the character Claude as a foil for Jenkins both in youth and in his later years?
- The jury for Manitoba’s Book of the Year for 2012 included Dating in its short list of six, saying that it was “full of everything that Williamson celebrates in his critical writing . . . lively storytelling, engaging characters, a dash of seduction, and humour that winds through every page.” Do you agree? If so or if not, why?
Dave Williamson has written five previous novels, as well as a collection of short stories, a memoir, drama for television and stage, and over 1,000 book reviews. Founder of the Creative Communications program at Red River College, he was Dean of Business and Applied Arts for over 20 years, retiring in 2006. He lives in Winnipeg.