Monogamy by Sue Miller
I've been reading Sue Miller lately. I started with her new book, Monogamy, then went backwards, ordering other novels of hers I hadn't read--she's been a proficient novelist for many years. I kept wondering if I had read them, nervous of pushing the buy button, but since I never remembered checking them out of the library and there were no e-readers back then I thought it a safe bet after I scrutinized the sample pages on Amazon. To have had reread them would have been no problem!
I love the way Miller writes--most always about relationships, marriage struggles or successes, and sometimes with mysteries weaved into the plot (The Arsonist comes to mind). Monogamy, however, does not stray from its central theme of marriage and relationships, the bad and the good that will indefinitely sprout up and entangle everyone, from a single coupling, or two or even three couplings! Monogamy is less a story with plot and more a complex character study.
This quiet novel yields some surprises that are central to the story's theme. It should resonate with any literary type, those who enjoy stories about romance and relationships, or those who may love the novel's Boston setting, one of the main reasons I started reading Miller.
The novel begins with Annie describing her first failed marriage to Alan: It was when she [Annie] was driving home with him [Alan] from a party, a party he was speaking of in that familiar, slightly irritated tone, that it occurred to her that she simply didn't like him. ... Annie leaves Alan at the age of 29, keeping the camera his parents gave her after she'd expressed interest in photography and began a career in it. There comes a time of sleeping around, after which she would finally meet the "love of her life", the larger than life, gregarious, bear of a man named Graham who runs a Harvard Square book store. He would become Annie's second husband.
There are lots of scenes of Cambridge, some of Chicago--places Miller likes to write about, often used in her other novels as backdrops. I sensed that Miller, herself, is fond of cats, rural areas of New Hampshire which are good for healing, food and wine, books, urban areas of Boston for primary residences, and has had her own difficult and rewarding relationships. In Monogamy, intellectual discussions about literature at dinner parties abound (Annie is a bit of a foodie), among friends and acquaintances at elaborate table settings, including generous glasses of wine. In fact, Annie and Graham meet at a book store event when she spills a glass of red wine on his shirt front, his reaction the first inkling of how fun and generous his personality will be. A generosity that may not always be unselfish.
There is the supportive daughter, Sarah, who is in a new relationship she prefers to keep hidden. There is the plain but nurturing and earnest ex-wife of Graham's, Frieda, with whom their own open marriage concept miserably failed, but for Frieda only. Oddly, Annie is close friends with the ex-wife, which does Annie more harm than good. Confidences shared between friends become awkward when there is a shared husband. From the outset, Annie believes in monogamy.
There is also the nice stepson, Lucas, the odd-ball, elderly neighbor named Karen, and other interesting complex characters. The two characters with limited scene time but who are central to the story are Rosemary Gregory and Ian Pedersen. I'll stop there except to say that the evolution of Ian's character to a jolting realization for Annie was one of the more interesting parts of the novel. So well written with such great dialogue in those passages!
Monogamy is a story about love, loss, ... old habits that die hard. It deftly portrays the anguish and grief that usually surround betrayal. It illuminates the healing that usually comes from forgiveness. That which might be enriching and life altering to one person, may not even be remembered by the other! O.k. that's a big hint. :)
After I finished Monogamy, I was on a roll, grabbing anything Miller I could find. I read Miller's For Love. Then The Story of My Father, a memoir about Miller's father who had died from Alzheimer's disease (a subject close to my heart as I lost my mom to the disease in June). After that, I read The Arsonist. Finally, I read The Lake Share Limited. In that novel one of the central characters has Alzheimer's disease--this time fictionalized. Copies of most of her other novels I have not mentioned here sit dog-eared (or wine-stained!) on my living room bookshelf. I'm waiting for more! I highly recommend every one of them.
Monogamy, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.