three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
33-Mar-Apr-2008
By: 
Sue Miller
user_rating: 
0

A-The Senators WifeWhen Meri and her new husband Nathan, a young professor, move to a New England college town in the early 1990s, Meri, who has worked her way up from nothing, is not at all sure she wants this new life. Then she meets the elderly Delia, who lives on the other side of their townhouse wall. To Meri, Delia epitomizes all that she is not—a glamorous, unconventional woman living in Paris part-time and married to a philandering, retired senator who keeps his own quarters. Fascinated, an unhappily pregnant Meri starts to snoop around as Delia is forced into an unfamiliar role. Soon, long hidden secrets and a terrible betrayal profoundly affect the two couples’ lives.
Knopf. 320 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0307264203

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"No chronicler of family dilemmas is more comfortable with the minute ebb and flow of relationships that, over time, can wear down granite. … The Senator’s Wife delivers two differently flawed accounts of the state of wifehood in such a seamless form that the novel’s bleakness registers only slowly and late." Elsbeth Lindner

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The Senator’s Wife provocatively invites us to ponder: Have women’s roles changed over the past 30 years as much as we might wish to believe? … Meri revels in the power that small secrets and lies give her over her husband; Delia selfishly guards her emotional resources." Diana Postlethwaite

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"The Senator’s Wife is an engrossing character study of Meri and Delia, but the novel is also an irresistible page-turner. … The novel is a fast and fascinating read, a provocative look at the construction of the American family and the institution of marriage." Ashley Simpson Shires

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[The novel] shows her expertise at bringing a reader into her character’s heads and into their living rooms, seamlessly depicting both familiar social ritual and the currents moving beneath it. … [M]arriages, as Meri learns, each speak a language of their own." Moira Macdonald

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"The very best stuff in the book belongs to Delia. … The ending is complicated and intriguing. It’s a talker." Deirdre Donahue

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"The complexities set up in the exploration of Tom and Delia’s union are too easily abandoned by Miller. … You wonder, as in any broken relationship, what went wrong in The Senator’s Wife and how it might have been prevented." Veronique de Turenne

New York Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"These final chapters provided a cathartic conclusion, an end-of-birthing experience that all but erased the painful labor of reading that preceded it. … Shock, deceit, desire and despair come together at once in a way that feels simply like fate." Judith Warner

Critical Summary

In her latest novel, Sue Miller contemplates wifehood from the perspective of two women—one at the start of her marriage, the other reconciled to the direction her relationship has taken over the decades yet nonetheless hopeful for change. In capturing their dreams, fears, and disappointments, Miler paints a devastating, realistic, and unsentimental portrait of both Meri and Delia. What to make of the two negative reviews? They seemed complete opposites: the Los Angeles Times enjoyed the book until the twist at the end, whereas the New York Times Book Review admired only the climax. Yes, the novel is a domestic drama, with its compare-and-contrast marriage storylines, a tone that can be overly earnest, and protagonists that sometimes lack self-awareness. But there is good insight into character here, and the story’s masterful plot twist—a final betrayal—reveals Miller’s ample talents as a storyteller.