Monday, June 14, 2010

77 - Private Life; Jane Smiley




















Private Life is a novel which spans a period of 50 plus years beginning in 1883. It follows the life of Margaret (Mayfield) Early, a woman who was considered a spinster at the age of 27. Fortunately, she was saved from that label when she met Navy captain Andrew Early, gets married and moves from Missouri to San Francisco, CA. In CA, Andrew works at a navel base where he manages the observatory. At first glance, Andrew seems perfect: a brilliant astronomer, fluent in several languages, and a man who has traveled the world. When they marry, he tells Margaret that a wife is only expected to " do what she is told the first year year of marriage". Margaret dutifully complies.

Margaret is a passive, reserved woman who seems afraid to speak up. She just seems content to watch life happen all around her. She has witnessed her share of personal family tragedies. She's also lived through an earthquake, a flu epidemic, and Pearl Harbor. Unhappy in her role, yet as time goes on she seems more accepting of her life. She busies herself in charity work, has a small circle of colorful  friends, and the reader witnesses moments of joy in her life outside of her marriage. At one point, the highlight of her day is watching with fascination, some coots that flock to a pond every day. Wanting to capture this sight, she asks her friend Mr. Kimura to paint the coots for her. Then one day they suddenly disappear.

When their only child, still an infant, dies, Margaret and Andrew grow further apart. He becomes distant, rigid and eccentric to the point that she even begins to fear him. Margaret eventually begins to evolve, even though it took her over 30 years to do so.

At the beginning of the novel, I truly wanted to shake Margaret and say "wake up and do something", but by the end of the novel I began to have a having a better understanding of the woman she was. Although the novel was slow going in parts, many of the characters were hard to forget. Some readers might find the way the novel ended to be unsatisfying, however, I was glad I took the time to read this one. I thought the title fit the story perfectly. RECOMMENDED
4/5 stars - Review Copy

26 comments:

  1. This really appeals to me. As I read your review I forgot it was a novel. So many real women faced (and still face) many of the same struggles and gilded cages. I will watch for this book.

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  2. Hmm, I'm not sure I'd like this one, but I'll keep it in mind. Something about it appeals to me, but I can't put my finger on it yet.

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  3. Sounds interesting! I'll be keeping an eye out for this one, too. Thanks for the great review!

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  4. I keep picking this book up and putting it down, unsure. Now I think I'll pick it up again. Thanks for this review!

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  5. Wonderful review, Diane. It does sound like a book I'd enjoy. I have a book by this author, but it's not a novel, it's about how we can look at novels. I've probably mentioned this to you before.

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  6. This sounds like a very interesting and valuable book

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  7. The only Jane Smiley book I've ever read was A THOUSAND ACRES. Powerful book, but not one I was ever anxious to read again. This one sounds like something I might like, but I'm not sure. I'd have to be in the right mood for it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Diane.

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  8. Spinster at 27 - how scary! Love the cover of this book and definitely think I would enjoy reading it.

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  9. This sounds like it might be a slower read, which I sometimes appreciate, so I am interested. I thought you wrote a great review on it and I am going to be checking it out further. Thanks!!

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  10. Hello There- Just checking out your web site - Excellent articles!! You can also find great articles on this blog; http://quick-reads.blogspot.com/

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  11. You make this book sound very rounded and interesting - thanks for recommending.

    Hannah

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  12. hmmm... Sounds interesting. I echo Charley - I don't know what appeals to me. She sounds like a character very different from myself and that probably would be frustrating. Maybe I'll pick this up & see. Thanks for the review.

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  13. I'm really looking forward to this one. I'm a fan of Jane Smiley, and this subject matter sounds so intriguing!

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  14. I generally find Smiley's work to be like this...definitely worth reading but not necessarily enjoyable or re-readable. I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for this one.

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  15. I might pick this one up in the winter. It's not what I'm in the mood for right now but I might enjoy it later!

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  16. I love your review. This is a new author to me. The story does appeal to me and that it's partly set in San Francisco makes it even more interesting.

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  17. I imagine way too many women live a life like the one described in this book.

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  18. hmm..Sounds very nice to me.If the book is written good, then I would love to read how Margaret coped up with all these things and finally began to evolve.

    Wonderful review :)

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  19. Great review, Diane! Is this new? I've only read one of her books and it's been a long time.

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  20. Iliana....Yes, Private Life is her 2010 release.

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  21. I've been curious about this book for a while. It sounds really good, I think I will give it a try.

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  22. Sounds packed full of emotion, which I seem to be in the mood for these days. I have never read a Jane Smiley novel before.

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  23. I like Smiley so this one sounds like a book I would read. Excellent review of this one.

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  24. Another book to add to my list - you are my favorite resource for finding new titles. Thank you for your wonderful taste in books! :)

    I started listening to The Boy Next Door last night, so far it's very good. It's the kind of book I wish I was reading - I know it's going to be good but I don't have time to sit and want to read something really good this week.

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  25. You've certainly piqued my interest with your great review.

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  26. I stumbled across this book in one of our local charity shops, was tempted to buy it but in the end left it on the shelf, even though I really enjoyed Smiley's A Thousand Acres. After your review, maybe I'll see if it's still there :).

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