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The Senator's Wife: A Novelby Sue Miller
Synopses & Reviews
Once again Sue Miller takes us deep into the private lives of women with this mesmerizing portrait of two marriages exposed in all their shame and imperfection, and in their obdurate, unyielding love. The author of the iconic The Good Mother and the best-selling While I Was Gone brings her marvelous gifts to a powerful story of two unconventional women who unexpectedly change each other's lives.
Meri is newly married, pregnant, and standing on the cusp of her life as a wife and mother, recognizing with some terror the gap between reality and expectation. Delia Naughton — wife of the two-term liberal senator Tom Naughton — is Meri's new neighbor in the adjacent New England town house. Delia's husband's chronic infidelity has been an open secret in Washington circles, but despite the complexity of their relationship, the bond between them remains strong. What keeps people together, even in the midst of profound betrayal? How can a journey imperiled by, and sometimes indistinguishable from, compromise and disappointment culminate in healing and grace? Delia and Meri find themselves leading strangely parallel lives, both reckoning with the contours and mysteries of marriage, one refined and abraded by years of complicated intimacy, the other barely begun.
Here are all the things for which Sue Miller has always been beloved — the complexity of experience precisely rendered, the richness of character and emotion, the superb economy of style — fused with an utterly engrossing story that has a great deal to say to women, and men, of all ages.
"Bestselling author Miller (The Good Mother; While I Was Gone) returns with a rich, emotionally urgent novel of two women at opposite stages of life who face parallel dilemmas. Meri, the young, sexy wife of a charismatic professor, occupies one wing of a New England house with her husband. An unexpected pregnancy forces her to reassess her marriage and her childhood of neglect. Delia, her elegant neighbor in the opposite wing, is the long-suffering wife of a notoriously philandering retired senator. The couple have stayed together for his career and still share an occasional, deeply intense tryst. The women's routines continue on either side of the wall that divides their homes, and the two begin to flit back and forth across the porch and into each others physical and psychological spaces. A steady tension builds to a bruising denouement. The clash, predicated on Delia's husband's compulsive behavior and on Meri's lack of boundaries, feels too preordained. But Miller's incisive portrait of the complex inner lives of her characters and her sharp manner of taking them through conflicts make for an intense read." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"It was probably inevitable that Sue Miller, a gifted storyteller, would eventually unleash her talents on the topic of political marriage. As Miller explained recently in an interview with NPR's Linda Wertheimer, she has long been intrigued by the dynamics of such marriages, particularly those in which a wife's loyalty seems to outlast her husband's worthiness. Politics breeds the sacrificial wife... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) who abandons her dreams for those of her husband but then suffers public humiliation when the honorable member fails to keep his in his pants. What, Miller wonders, makes these wives stay put in marriages that diminish them? It's a good question, but it remains unanswered in an otherwise compelling tale of the marital complexities and disappointments in Miller's latest novel, 'The Senator's Wife.' First, a disclosure: I am a U.S. senator's wife. I am fairly new to the role, and it is neither my vocation nor occupation, but it bears mentioning. It also explains why I could not pass up the chance to read this book. There are so many assumptions about marriages like mine. What might Miller's be? This is the tale of two marriages and how they intersect and, eventually, collide. Meri and Nathan are young and still negotiating the terrain of matrimony when they move next door to Delia Naughton. Delia is married to former U.S. senator Tom Naughton, a man who cheats on his wife so often one half-expects this tale to turn into a murder mystery. Despite his infidelities, Delia is unwilling to sever all ties with him. They no longer live together, but she won't divorce Tom and occasionally still sleeps with him. Miller depicts their dalliances with her usual sizzle and pop, and many readers will celebrate Delia's 70-something vivacity. Still, the question hovers: Why waste her energy on him? We are told countless times that Tom is charismatic, but Miller gives little proof of his charms. Instead, Delia just seems a fool. 'She knew Tom had other women, and she told herself that every time she was thinking of him, he was thinking of someone else. Every time she wanted him, he was making love with someone else. But when she was swept with jealous longing for him, none of that mattered. She couldn't help herself. She called him.' We are given no mitigating circumstances for her continued devotion. Husband and wife do not share a commitment to any causes, nor does Delia enjoy the spotlight. We learn early that she prefers to live in small-town New England, far away from Washington. 'She supposed most of it was just getting away with Tom from the sexually charged atmosphere of Washington, where a handsome man with power, a man who talked easily, a man who was charming and chivalric around women, could always find companionship. Or, more accurately, had to actively choose not to have companionship, if that's what he wanted.' Meanwhile, Meri is struggling next door with what it means to be a grown-up. She resents the changes her husband's academic career have brought to her life, and when she accidentally becomes pregnant, she resents that, too. What, she wonders, is to become of her? 'She suspects there's trouble coming. But she feels if they can just hold on to the easy camaraderie and sexual heat of their early days, then they can find a way to keep talking about all this, a way of shaping their marriage to suit them both.' Meri is intrigued with Delia, whom she sees as 'private' and 'unknowable.' Inexplicably, this same emotionally aloof woman hands Meri, still a virtual stranger, her house key and asks her to collect the mail and water her plants while she spends the winter in Paris. Almost immediately upon Delia's departure, Meri explores her drawers and cupboards and reads dozens of old letters that chronicle a challenging, often heartbreaking marriage. While Delia's immediate, and misplaced, trust in Meri rings false, Miller conveys just how it is to be married to a politician who insists on holding center stage. The senator bows his head in church, wondering how many are watching. He insists on taking a cab home, rather than allowing a family member to pick him up at the airport. 'He likes that solo, dramatic entrance,' his son says. 'Plus, of course, there's the cabdriver,' Delia answers. 'One more vote to be gathered in.' Miller gets other details right, too. During campaigns, a staff member hands Delia her speech and orders her not to change a word. Every year, the annoying Christmas cards arrive, 'only a few of them from what Delia thought of as real people — the rest just politics.' One of the most devastating scenes in the book comes when Delia realizes what her husband's infidelities have cost her. She is alone in a Paris museum when she spots an erotic drawing of a nude woman splayed across a bed. In a breathtaking moment of clarity and heartbreak, she sees what her husband sees with every mistress, every affair: 'The flesh, the youth, the beauty, the sex, of another woman as Tom would see her, as Tom would respond to her. The inevitability of his desire for someone else made visible.' She stares at the sketch and sobs. A final betrayal involves Meri and Tom in an implausible set of circumstances that leaves the reader disgusted with all four characters. At story's end, one can imagine most wives shaking their heads and mumbling, 'At least my marriage isn't that bad.' Most real-life senators' wives would likely agree. Connie Schultz is a columnist for the Plain Dealer/Creators Syndicate and the author, most recently, of '. . . and His Lovely Wife.'" Reviewed by Connie Schultz, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Miller brings into stark yet uplifting relief the limitations of morality when confronted with love." Kirkus Reviews
"[An] incandescent tale of betrayal and the perpetual divide between men and women, and a galvanizing novel of life's imperative to use yourself up." Booklist
"The carnal twist Miller ultimately devises to bring the narrative to a head is more puzzling than plausible....As she has repeatedly demonstrated, the variety of ways people find to connect with one another beggars the imagination. Though apparently not hers. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"[A] rich, elegantly plotted tale of two women's — and two generations' — experiences of marriage and motherhood....It's intentionally ambiguous: both bright and dark, celebratory and desolate. Nothing at all like a Lifetime Channel movie, but a lot like real life." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[A] fast and fascinating read, a provocative look at the construction of the American family and the institution of marriage. Miller's characters are haunting, their actions unforgettable." Rocky Mountain News
The author of the iconic The Good Mother and the bestselling While I Was Gone takes readers deep into the private lives of women with this mesmerizing portrait of two marriages, exposed in all their shame and imperfection and in their obdurate, unyielding love.
About the Author
Sue Miller is the best-selling author of the novels Lost in the Forest, The World Below, While I Was Gone, The Distinguished Guest, For Love, Family Pictures, and The Good Mother; the story collection Inventing the Abbotts; and the memoir The Story of My Father. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
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