Saturday, March 14, 2009
I once called Beth Gutcheon the “queen of domestic fiction” but when I wrote that I must have temporarily forgotten about Sue Miller. Perhaps we don’t need a queen and can instead elect a triumvirate or some kind of ruling senate with lots of members. In any case, Sue Miller should be right up there at the top of the heap.
Not to encourage any stereotypes or anything, but I can’t imagine that a man would like this book. It has the most graphic description of childbirth I’ve ever encountered and pages and pages about pregnancy and breastfeeding and other events that involve female bodily fluids. I’m not squeamish about these kinds of thing but even I felt a little overburdened by this level of realism.
This book really ought to be called The Senator’s Wife’s Next-Door Neighbor but that doesn’t sound as good. The only fully developed character is Meri, the neighbor to Delia; Delia is the estranged wife of a philandering Kennedy-esque 1970’s-era U.S. senator. Meri develops an unhealthy obsession with Delia and her life. Delia meanwhile stays at arm’s length (from both Meri and from us, the readers) and the two husbands (Meri’s husband Nathan and the ex-senator Tom) are even less accessible as characters. We follow Meri for a while in the early 1990’s as she gets to know Delia, and we also follow Delia for a while, both in the 1990’s and the 1960’s when she was still living with Tom (that is, before he left her for a woman half his age). The book doesn’t flow particularly well and I didn’t like Meri very much. In the end everyone gets what they deserve which is kind of satisfying in a perverse way.
Despite my complaints I liked this book. It was kind of like anchovy pizza—better to consider the whole thing rather than focus on the individual ingredients.
(Book 10, 2009)