Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
Review: 'Monogamy,' by Sue Miller

Review: 'Monogamy,' by Sue Miller

  • 0

"Monogamy" by Sue Miller; Harper (352 pages, $28.99)

___

Two painfully memorable moments anchor "Monogamy," a sophisticated, melancholy novel about an American family that some would call dysfunctional, others awkwardly recognizable and sympathetic.

In the first, Annie, an introspective photographer, awakens before dawn one day in the mid-2000s in her shabby, comfortable home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to find Graham, her 57-year-old second husband of more than 30 years, lying cold and "yellowish gray" next to her.

It's a spooky scene, and one that unfolds well into the book, after we've come to know this couple and the tricky choreography of their marriage.

Weeks later, Annie, still deeply shaken, summons the strength to arrange a memorial service for Graham at the bustling bookstore he co-owns. Afterward, she invites the mourners to her house.

Late that evening, she goes upstairs to use the bathroom and hears an eerie keening coming from Graham's study. Thinking at first that it is their adult daughter, Sarah, she heads there.

It is not Sarah, she realizes in a moment "of confusion, and then of sudden clarity." It is a woman she barely knows, sobbing her heart out at her husband's desk. The woman "turned toward the open doorway, her face lifted to Annie, ravaged by grief, sorrow, and then quickly something else. Guilt. Apology."

Her husband's lover.

The discovery that Graham, a large, cheerful, broad-souled man, had a very recent affair curdles Annie's grief. She does not wish to share her intensely private rage and anguish with Sarah, or with her husband's son by his first marriage, Lucas. But she does tell her husband's first wife, Frieda, who through the years has become one of Annie's closest friends.

Like much in this well-woven book about sexual attraction, family dynamics and the mess they make together, that relationship is both unusual and entirely believable.

By now it's obvious that the novel's title, "Monogamy," is ironic. Graham has not been true to Annie (she never even learns of his most intense affair, which he has gloomily confessed to Frieda, who mercifully never tells Annie).

Graham has been true to no one, yet Annie is his north star. Annie has come close to an affair of her own, yet Graham is her heart's desire.

Annie's not the only one struggling with the vagaries of love and lust. Sarah has had her shields up against men until meeting one who loves her without irony or condition. Graham and Frieda's son, Lucas, is unsure about his marriage after the birth of their baby.

Everyone in this novel hungers for love and loyalty, but no one truly achieves it. And yet after myriad struggles and revelations, those with the most attentive, loving hearts find peace.

Annie is foremost among them. Her passage from the pure grief that stems from true love, to the awful anger that comes from the knowledge of betrayal, to the peace that comes from self-understanding and forgiving a betrayal, are the trajectory of this novel.

It's an excruciating read, and one that can feel cold and remote in the era that has unfolded after it was written. Americans are focused on COVID-19 and racial turmoil now, and a privileged white family's struggles can feel distant.

And yet, such private sorrows occur no matter what else is going on. A salute to Sue Miller for diving into the domestic dramas that play out in many an American family.

Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com

Stay up-to-date on what's happening

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

"Sex With Presidents" By Eleanor Herman; William Morrow (384 pages, $27.99) ___ The key question that a book called "Sex With Presidents" needs to answer is: Whose was biggest? As in: Which president's sexual exploit-filled chapter is the biggest? The book about our skirtchasers-in-chief has a surprising answer: Franklin Delano Roosevelt has 34 pages devoted to his extracurricular activities, ...

Colin Quinn is convinced the United States need to divorce. He's been arguing this for a while now, but his new book, "Overstated: A Coast-to-Coast Roast of the 50 States," takes the premise further. He imagines the country 244 years into its marriage, nearly exhausted by counseling, on the brink of filing the divorce papers. "The only reason we never broke up was because we all lived with the ...

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Countless acts of generosity and support helped Fred Guttenberg survive the unbearable loss of his only daughter in Parkland's high school massacre in 2018. A who's who of political heavyweights contacted him: the Democratic presidential candidate, the speaker of the House, a congressman from Florida, the governors of Ohio and New Jersey. But the kindness of friends and ...

Here are the bestsellers for the week that ended Saturday, Sept. 19, compiled from data from independent and chain bookstores, book wholesalers and independent distributors nationwide, powered by NPD BookScan (c) 2020 NPD Group. (Reprinted from Publishers Weekly, published by PWxyz LLC. (c) 2020, PWxyz LLC.) HARDCOVER FICTION 1. "The Evening and the Morning" by Ken Follett (Viking) Last week: ...

Here are the bestsellers for the week that ended Saturday, Sept. 12, compiled from data from independent and chain bookstores, book wholesalers and independent distributors nationwide, powered by NPD BookScan (c) 2020 NPD Group. (Reprinted from Publishers Weekly, published by PWxyz LLC. (c) 2020, PWxyz LLC.) HARDCOVER FICTION 1. Shadows in Death. J.D. Robb. St. Martin's 2. The Harbinger II. ...

Netflix teetered on financial ruin just 20 years ago, when co-founder Reed Hastings failed to sell his struggling DVD rental subscription business to Blockbuster, eventually forcing him to lay off 30% of his staff as the nation slid into recession. But, in Hastings' view, the cuts winnowed the staff and allowed the remaining stars to thrive. Creativity surged, and over time, managers were ...

"But what about Black-on-Black crime?" It's a question that poet, playwright and professor Claudia Rankine has been fielding ever since she toured the country for her 2014 bestseller "Citizen: An American Lyric." And she expects it for her latest work. "It was never from a white person but always a South Asian guy trying to distance himself from me to show that he's not Black," Rankine said. ...

"This Is Big" by Marisa Meltzer; Little, Brown (304 pages, $28) ___ How do you feel about people who kvetch about money and then spend $900 on a sweater? Marisa Meltzer is a deft, amusing memoirist, but she lacks self-reflection in "This Is Big: How the Founder of Weight Watchers Changed the World (and Me)," when she doesn't pause to, for instance, consider the privileged position she's in as ...

"He Started It" by Samantha Downing; Berkley (400 pages, $26) ___ From the beginning of the highly entertaining "He Started It," Beth Morgan makes it clear why she should not, cannot, be your heroine. Her flaws and behavior won't allow her to be considered a heroine. But she does have a story to tell, she says, and it is a doozy. The witty, self-deprecating and observant Beth is locked in a ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics