Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: The Senator's Wife

Title The Senator's Wife
Author Sue Miller
Genre Literary Fiction
Category Women's Fiction
Rating B

Summary Delia is the long-time wife of philandering (former) Senator Tom Naughton, and she gets new neighbors on the other half of their duplex. Meri's husband, Nathan, has moved them back to the east coast (from the Midwest) for a teaching job at a prestigious university. These two women, who have little in common, meet and their lives become inextricably linked--both for the good and the bad.

First Line "From her perch in the middle of the backseat, Meri surveys the two in front--her husband, Nathan, and Sheila, the real estate agent. There is something vulnerable about the back of the head and the neck, she thinks."

Review Sue Miller is at the top of her literary-fiction-version-of-chick-lit game. She's very deft at taking women's intersecting lives and dissecting the thoughts and external forces that influence and shape them. She's relatively free of judgement, all around, as she puts both a 70-something stay-at-home wife and mother alongside a 30-something working wife and mother. Neither is seen as perfect, nor is either seen as not being in control of her station in life.

In addition to crafting the inner lives of her characters well, Miller is good at creating supporting characters and setting. Houses and towns, streets and parties are well populated and easy to imagine.

I think, if possible, the only thing I'd like to see Miller do is get us more into the minds of the male characters in the book, perhaps through dialogue. Both of the husbands remain enigmatic throughout the book--you know that they love their wives, each in their own way, but you also know they're both complicit in some of the problems that occur during the book. And, as much as you get a peek inside of Delia and Meri's thoughts, you're always left guessing about what the guys are thinking. The women become self-contained bubbles, often speculating on what others think, but rarely taking the steps necessary to either confirm or deny their suspicions.

Of note: I did count her down because Miller did a very weird thing where, instead of referring to the vagina technically or with a relatively-contemporary pop culture slang, she called it "sex"; i.e., "my sex was swollen." What the what?

But, while we're on the subject of "sex," Miller is pretty impressive in her ability to make sex within marriage seem really hot. Kudos to her.

Recommendation Fans of other chick-lit-disguised-as-literary-fiction titles, such as The Time Traveller's Wife, will probably like this book.

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