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Private life : a novel
Jane Smiley
Adult Fiction SMILEY

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From Publishers' Weekly:

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. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

In 1905 Missouri, quiet 27-year-old Margaret Mayfield marries Capt. Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early, a naval officer and an astronomer who is considered a genius and a little odd. By the time they make their way by train to their new life in California, the reader understands that Captain Early is actually somewhat crazy in his obsessions. This is a conclusion that Margaret herself is slow to draw, even as their lives together grow more troubled. Smiley (Ten Days in the Hills) reminds us how difficult it was for all but the boldest women to extract themselves from suffocating life situations 100 years ago. While dealing with intimate matters, this novel also has an epic sweep, moving from Missouri in the 1880s to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, up to the Japanese internment camps of World War II, with the scenes from Margaret's Missouri childhood reminiscent of Willa Cather. Verdict Not a highly dramatic page-turner but rather a subtle and thoughtful portrayal of a quiet woman's inner strength, this may especially appeal to readers who have enjoyed Marilynne Robinson's recent Gilead and Home. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/09.]-Leslie Patterson, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence, RI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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main characters Margaret Mayfield
Female
Age: 27
Married
Andrew's wife; bored and lonely in her marriage.

Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early
Male
Married
Margaret's husband; Naval officer; brilliant astronomer; obsessed with science.
Captain



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