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Private Life by Jane Smiley
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Private Life

by Jane Smiley

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4734121,857 (3.25)1 / 46
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Unassuming but cumulatively stunning. Full review at Novel Readings:

http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/novelreadings/jane-smiley-private-life
  rmaitzen | Feb 7, 2014 |
It really takes a towering genius to write an interesting book about bores, and sadly that's not Jane Smiley. All of her characters are remarkably dull and remain disengaging throughout. the novel is set in a fascinating period and community, and deals with events of great resonance and emotional heft, but the sheer tedium of Andrew's obsessions and Margaret;s willed acquiescence, makes these become very, very ordinary indeed - and not in a good way. i'd really suggest reading another one of her books...
  otterley | Nov 18, 2013 |
Smiley's portrayal of a marriage between a woman with few options and an egotistic and foolish man is so well drawn it just almost painful to read at times. I don't think I have ever read any novel with a character such as Andrew Early. His narcissistic personality is disgusting; at times the reader doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. Margaret's submission to his vain and foolish ideas seems absurd, yet considering the time and culture, what could she do. It is easy to say that she should have found a way to get out of that stifling marriage (especially considering the role model of Dora), but Margaret simply deals with it and "makes the best of it." Making the best of it might seem to be a weakness, but in many ways it is a strength. She does not drop into depression. Instead she seeks out the friendship of other women, the Japanese family, and gives into what seems to be a "one night/afternoon stand" with Pete. Her alternatives could easily have been worse.

The backdrop of the Civil War, the San Francisco earthquake, the internment of the Japanese all provide a colorful and interesting canvas to tell this story. It is a good blend of historical fiction with a intimate look at a private life of a very different man and woman. In short -- loved this book. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 17, 2013 |
Margaret Mayfield is, by the standards of her Missouri hometown, an old maid in her late twenties. She quite enjoyes her freedom, but there's something about Andrew Early that intrigues her, and and they end up getting married and she follows him to California where he has a navy job. It isn't an easy marriage, and he isn't an easy person to live with: a scientist with a head full of ideas and theories, a passionate desire to prove himself right and other people wrong, a sense of being belittled, patronised and persecuted, and over time Margaret comes to realise that although she has been supportive, she doesn't find his scientific arguments convincing. As years go by, she's feeling increased confined but finds joy in nature and friends, but his last paranoid investigation destroys part of that.

Bleak but engaging and very readable, and I really liked Margaret as a character. ( )
  mari_reads | Aug 4, 2013 |
This book reminded me a little of the play A Doll's House by Ibsen. The difference is that the protagonist is from with the exception of place and time. Horrors of living through two wars and how these affect friends and relatives are explored. Reader was good. ( )
  espref | Apr 16, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
While not all marriages are as suffocating as Margaret Early’s, the novel reminds us that, for many, that holy sacrament was, and continues to be, a matter of solemn duty and agonising boredom'. Photograph: Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

In these too public times, the notion of a private life seems both desirable and strangely exotic, but for the unhappy wife in Jane Smiley's brilliant new book, it is something altogether different. Thinking – but, characteristically, not talking, even to her dearest friend – about her relationship with her husband, Margaret Early comes to the conclusion that "their lives were mostly private now, lived side by side as necessary, but whatever there had been for them both . . . had dissipated the way certain qualities of light did."
added by AlexDraven | editGuardian, John Burnside (May 22, 2010)
 
Smiley plays these scenes out gradually, finessing the increments that build domestic anxiety to extend and enrich her central concern: a fully fleshed portrait of the conflicted loyalties of a woman raised to be a submissive wife, a constant support to her husband.
 
Ms. Smiley traces this change with such skill that reading about it becomes ever more gripping as her novel takes readers closer to that day at the racecourse. The author also follows "Middlemarch" in evoking a particular place at a particular time. She describes America as it pulled out of the Civil War into the Gilded Age, and then slid through blinding overconfidence into recession and a second all-consuming war.
 
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In those days, all stories ended with the wedding. -Rose Wilder Lane, Old Home Town
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Stella, who had been sleeping in her basket in the corner, leapt up barking then slipped out the bedroom door.
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As her husband's obsessions with science take a darker turn on the eve of World War II, Margaret Mayfield is forced to consider the life she has so carefully constructed.

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