Books Slog Commenter book Report 7: Aislinn Ogles The Senator’s Wife
posted by October 22 at 13:00 PMon
As you know by now, I bring a batch of advance reader copies to Slog Happy for everyone to enjoy, with the caveat that the person who reads (or tries to read) the book has to review it for all of us here on Slog.
Today’s reviewer is the lovely and talented Aislinn. Aislinn is reviewing The Senator’s Wife, by Sue Miller. Anything you don’t like about this review no doubt is due to the editing process and not at all Aislinn’s fault and you should blame the editor. I am the editor.
So, you’re really smart, right? And, being really smart, you probably say the word apercu all the time. For instance, when you’re talking to your very good-looking, college professor/author husband (who apparently married you because you’re so damn smart), you might say it as many as three times in one conversation, and then think it again shortly thereafter. Because, well, that’s just what really smart people do, when they’re not busy secretly reading their elderly neighbor’s personal letters, or lactating sexually* for said neighbor’s stroke-suffering, estranged husband. Whoops, spoiler alert!
I began The Senator’s Wife with the intention of liking it. Or, not hating it.
Being from a small New England town, I love it when books are set in small, New England towns. I also like family secrets, and, sometimes, chick stuff like marriage and babies and thoughtful gift baskets. This book has lots of those things. Unfortunately, it also has the one thing I hate most: old people copulating. I can tolerate subtle references to the elderly sharing intimate moments, but sentences like “They made love the first night, after Delia stroked him to a half erection and helped him come into her,” are completely unacceptable.
Icky mental images aside, Delia is the best part of the story, as the other main character, Meri (the one married to the hot professor), is so busy being Smart and Disaffected it’s impossible to care about her at all. The blurb on the back says that the book “brings elegance, gravity, and emotional power to her most transfixing themes: the meaning of loyalty, history, forgiveness, and grace itself.” If I was allowed to write such things, I’d replace that with: “One main character says things like “natch” and “apercu” and loves to talk about how lonely she is, while the other main character gives her septuagenarian husband halfies. The perfect gift for that sassy older lady in your life!” At least then, people could know what they were getting into.
That said, there is one chapter that is absolutely stunning, and should have been published alone as a short story. It’s one of two chapters set in Delia’s past (it’s better for having no mention of insipid, milky Meri), meant to better explain the intricacies of her marriage to “the senator,” Tom, and why, twenty years later, they live apart and see each other only occasionally for trysts. That single chapter touchingly and realistically explores the relationships between Delia and her recently-grown-up children, as well as the quiet pain of a woman betrayed—an over-covered subject that is infrequently worth revisiting. Sue Miller’s exasperatingly thorough detail (smells, sounds, and what tabletops are made of are all faithfully reported) is cloying over the length of a novel, but in the small dose of this chapter it’s an effective tool for fostering involvement and sympathy for a woman experiencing a boring, conventional kind of family dysfunction. (At Christmas, no less).
Many thanks to Aislinn, who has now done two of these and is becoming the star Slog Book Reporter. I know many of you out there have your second books already, and you should get to it. Aislinn’s making you look bad.
*Speaking of sexual lactation, have you seen Visitor Q? Trust me; you’d remember if you had. What is up with the whole lactation-as-means-of-regaining-sense-of-sexual-identity thing? Did I miss a memo? If I ever become a mommy, will I feel ugly and unappreciated until someone other than a baby samples my secretions? Please explain.