Private Life

Private Life

by Jane Smiley
3.1 25

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Overview

Private Life by Jane Smiley

A riveting new novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winner that traverses the intimate landscape of one woman’s life, from the 1880s to World War II.

Margaret Mayfield is nearly an old maid at twenty-seven in post–Civil War Missouri when she marries Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early. He’s the most famous man their small town has ever produced: a naval officer and a brilliant astronomer—a genius who, according to the local paper, has changed the universe. Margaret’s mother calls the match “a piece of luck.”

Margaret is a good girl who has been raised to marry, yet Andrew confounds her expectations from the moment their train leaves for his naval base in faraway California. Soon she comes to understand that his devotion to science leaves precious little room for anything, or anyone, else. When personal tragedies strike and when national crises envelop the country, Margaret stands by her husband. But as World War II approaches, Andrew’s obsessions take a different, darker turn, and Margaret is forced to reconsider the life she has so carefully constructed.

Private Life
is a beautiful evocation of a woman’s inner world: of the little girl within the hopeful bride, of the young woman filled with yearning, and of the faithful wife who comes to harbor a dangerous secret. But it is also a heartbreaking portrait of marriage and the mysteries that endure even in lives lived side by side; a wondrously evocative historical panorama; and, above all, a masterly, unforgettable novel from one of our finest storytellers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400040605
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/04/2010
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,250,071
Product dimensions: 9.56(w) x 6.58(h) x 1.27(d)

About the Author

Jane Smiley is the author of numerous novels, including A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, as well as four works of nonfiction. In 2001 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She received the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature in 2006. She lives in Northern California.

Hometown:

Northern California

Date of Birth:

September 26, 1949

Place of Birth:

Los Angeles, California

Education:

B.A. in English, Vassar College, 1971; M.A., Iowa University, 1975; M.F.A, 1976; Ph.D., 1978

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Private Life 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Almost two decades ago in Missouri then eight year old Margaret Mayfield's father committed suicide. Soon after her dad took his life; her brother dies in an accident and her other brother from measles. Their widowed mom informs her three daughters they must find a spouse. In 1905, twenty-seven years old Margaret is still an unmarried spinster but she meets astronomer US Navy Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson and they soon marry. He takes his new wife to California where he works at an observatory. Her first shock about her husband is how he reacts to the death of his mom in the earthquake and three years later to their baby. Over the years as her resentment and ire grow, Margaret realizes her husband suffers from obsessive behavior until by 1942 she looks back in anguish that she subjugated her dreams for his and never received the slightest regard from her spouse while his sister becomes a polished reporter. Still she accepts her lot until he betrays a Japanese- American family that they have been friends of for years claiming they are spies with no supporting evidence and the Feds don't need anything beyond his say so. This is a subtle first half of the twentieth century epic that shows how far women have come in over a century. Margaret is superb as she holds the profound story line together yet by WWII regrets what she could have been while admiring her courageous sister-in-law, but she accepts her lot in life until her spouse betrays a neighbor. Jane Smiley writes a powerful yet low keyed brilliant saga of a woman's role up until WWII when the Greatest Generation changes the dynamics. Harriet Klausner
socraticparenting More than 1 year ago
“Private Life” by Jane Smiley tracks the life of Margaret Mayfield from her youth in Post-Civil War Missouri through her life as Mrs. Andrew Early in California during WWII. Smiley begins with the Rose Wilder Lane quote “In those days all stories ended with the wedding.” Rather than a fairytale “happily-ever-after,” though, Smiley delves into the life of a “good woman” who submits to convention and allows her marriage to define her. Margaret describes herself as the third sister, even though she’s the oldest: “There’s always a beautiful sister and a smart sister, and then there’s a sister that’s not beautiful or smart.” At 27, Margaret is on the verge of becoming a spinster when she consents to marry the odd, but brilliant, Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early. There is no romance between them, which may be a blessing in itself. Margaret’s mother Livinia maintains what Margaret considered to be a practical view of marriage: Romance is always the first act of a tragedy. When Margaret is eight years old, her physician father commits suicide after a freak accident kills Margaret’s thirteen-year old brother and her fifteen-year-old brother dies of the measles. Livinia tells Margaret that death is the most essential part of life. The novel has no chapters, just a prologue and an epilogue, both set in 1942, and five parts beginning in 1883, 1905, 1911, 1928, 1937, respectively. Those hoping for a fast-paced read or compelling action will be disappointed, but those who appreciate well-crafted prose, exquisite character development, and insightful reflections upon human nature are in for a treat. In addition to describing Margaret’s inner self, “private” seems to be a subtle reference to Margaret’s station in life beneath that of her naval husband, Captain Early. She is but a spectator in that relationship, and over the years she watches her husband decline from something that approaches genius into what seems to be near madness. There’s no telling what Margaret might know, understand and remember if she finds the courage to let herself think before it’s too late.
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