About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, September 13, 2010

#68 (take 2) - Private Life

So I don't usually admit to reading multiple books at once. Actually, I don't do it all that often. But sometimes, like now, I get enmeshed in a non-fiction volume that's interesting, but a bit ... dry, especially for times when I'm otherwise busy and have precious little time to read.

Hence, I've also started Jane Smiley's Private Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010). I've enjoyed several of Smiley's other books -- living in a college town, Moo is a perpetual favorite -- and figured this would be a nice contrast to the sometimes-dense Skeptical Economist that's been untouched on my dresser for a few days.

Summary: "A riveting new novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winner that traverses the intimate landscape of one woman's life, from the1880s 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 wonderously evocative historical panorama; and above all, a masterly, unforgettable novel from one of our finest storytellers."

Opening line: "Stella, who had been sleeping in her basket in the corner, leapt up barking and then slipped out the bedroom door."

My take: Didn't end up finishing this one, either -- partly as I've been crazy busy, what with trying to work 2.5 jobs and all, and partly just because it didn't quite grab and hold me the way I'd hoped. The historical aspects are interesting -- a young woman growing up in a small Missouri town in the 1880s, who by the story's end is an elderly woman visiting long-time Japanese-American friends in northern California internment camps during WWII -- but the plot just seemed, well, plodding. Too bad, as the characters had potential -- but it was due back before I cared enough to hang on to it. Oh well. Perhaps the third time will be the charm.

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