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by Sue Miller

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-307-26420-6
Publisher: Knopf

How loyalty and betrayal occur within marriage and within friendship are the central but not the only questions raised in this quietly provocative domestic novel from Miller (Lost in the Forest, 2005, etc.).

In 1993, 37-year-old Meri and her new husband Nathan buy half a duplex in the Connecticut college town where he teaches history. Although Nathan and she have definite sexual chemistry, Meri is uncertain about the lasting power of their love. She is painfully aware of their different backgrounds, in particular his mother’s continuing affection in contrast to her own lack of maternal love growing up. Their neighbor in the attached house is Delia, the wife of former Senator Tom Naughton. Meri is drawn to Delia as a mother figure, but Delia, while friendly, is slightly aloof. While house-sitting for Delia, newly pregnant Meri reads a stash of Delia’s letters from Tom delineating the Naughtons’ private marital history. Tom’s infidelities made marriage impossible, especially after his fling with their daughter’s roommate, but Delia and he have continued to rendezvous since their public separation. Shortly after Meri gives birth to her son, Tom suffers a debilitating stroke and Delia brings him back to Connecticut to care for him. Delia comments that she and Meri are living parallel lives, tending a baby and an invalid husband. Actually, the ever-insecure Meri feels alienated from Nathan, unloving toward the baby and generally ugly and unhappy. Delia, meanwhile, is thrilled to have her husband completely to herself at last. But even semi-paralyzed, Tom carries on a sexually charged flirtation with Meri that destroys Delia’s temporary Eden. Years later, happily ensconced in her family life with Nathan and their three sons, Meri has found the capacity for love that Delia represented, but her remorse over betraying Delia remains limited.

Despite an overly deliberate pace, Miller brings into stark yet uplifting relief the limitations of morality when confronted with love.