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Private Lifeby Jane Smiley
Synopses & Reviews
A riveting new novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winner that traverses the intimate landscape of one womans life, from the 1880s to World War II.
Margaret Mayfield is nearly an old maid at twenty-seven in post-Civil War Missouri when she marries Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early. Hes the most famous man their small town has ever produced: a naval officer and a brilliant astronomer—a genius who, according to the local paper, has changed the universe. Margarets mother calls the match “a piece of luck.”
Margaret is a good girl who has been raised to marry, yet Andrew confounds her expectations from the moment their train leaves for his naval base in faraway California. Soon she comes to understand that his devotion to science leaves precious little room for anything, or anyone, else. When personal tragedies strike and when national crises envelop the country, Margaret stands by her husband. But as World War II approaches, Andrews obsessions take a different, darker turn, and Margaret is forced to reconsider the life she has so carefully constructed.
Private Life is a beautiful evocation of a womans inner world: of the little girl within the hopeful bride, of the young woman filled with yearning, and of the faithful wife who comes to harbor a dangerous secret. But it is also a heartbreaking portrait of marriage and the mysteries that endure even in lives lived side by side; a wondrously evocative historical panorama; and, above all, a masterly, unforgettable novel from one of our finest storytellers.
"The Pulitzer Prize — winning author of A Thousand Acres delivers a slow-moving historical antiromance in her bleak 13th novel. In the early 1880s, Margaret Mayfield is rescued from old maid status by Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early, an astronomer whose questionable discoveries have taken him from the scientific elite to a position as a glorified timekeeper at a remote California naval base. Margaret's world is made ever smaller as the novel progresses, with no children to distract her and Andrew more excited by his telescope than his wife. Isolation and boredom being two dominant themes, the book is a slow burn, punctuated by detours into the larger world: the Wobblies, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and both world wars. The old-fashioned language can be off-putting, though it does make the reader feel like a reluctant second wife to Andrew as his failed scientific theories are revealed in tedious detail and the gruesome monotony of marriage is portrayed in a repellant but fascinating fashion. Thus, when Margaret finally realizes her marriage is 'relentless, and terrifying,' it feels wonderfully satisfying, but the proceeding 100 pages offer a trickle of disappointment and a slackening of suspense that saps hard-earned goodwill." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
This riveting new novel from a Pulitzer Prize winner traverses the intimate landscape of one woman's life, from the 1880s to World War II. "Private Life" is a beautiful evocation of the little girl within the hopeful bride, of the young woman filled with yearning, and of the faithful wife who comes to harbor a dangerous secret.
About the Author
Jane Smiley is the author of numerous novels, including A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, as well as four works of nonfiction. In 2001 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She received the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature in 2006. She lives in Northern California.
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