Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller


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)

7 comments:

Serena said...

I have this book in my tbr pile as well. I hate when the subordinate characters are more developed than the main ones.

Citizen Reader said...

Thanks for the description--I don't know that I'm up for real graphic descriptions of childbirth these days so I might just wait on this one!

Sir Jeremy said...

I'll put "The Senator's Wife"on my to-read list, for, if it is even half as good as "While I was Gone" and "The Good Mother", it'll be a good read.

Anonymous said...

Just finished the book, and though it's earthy I think it's a great read. Delia and Meri - are both deceitful, needy, and fragile. And they are smart, sexy and hard-working. But Delia, the senator's wife, takes a very long time to give up her delusions about her marriage and to find her own way because she is more concerned with being elegant and enigmatic than in telling herself the truth. Meri, who is less likable, finds her way faster and saves her marriage and her family and her sense of self because she is actually more honest with herself. But you wonder what life has in store for Meri......given what she did to Delia. Can she keep telling herself the truth as she ages?

Becky said...

Anonymous, wow, and excellent analysis. I agree with you on all counts.

Gayle said...

Not my favorite Sue Miller. I had hopes for this one, but I actually found it kind of slow. And the big climax - the moment of Meri's betrayal - just didn't seem that bad to me. That said, she's still a wonderful writer.

Patti's Pages said...

I'm a big fan of Sue Miller, too, but reviews like yours have steered me away from this book in particular. I think I'll go back and read some of her old stuff, like The Good Mother.

Post a Comment