Monogamy by Sue Miller
Published by Harper
Publication date: September 8, 2020
Genres: Book Clubs, Contemporary, Fiction, Literary
Recently, my reading has involved both unusual plots and characters. Today I’m back with Sue Miller’s Monogamy, a novel that is, appropriately for this week, about grief. Annie McFarlane’s husband, Graham, dies of a heart attack in the night next to her in their bed. A large, boisterous man with an appetite for life he leaves a gaping hole in the lives of everyone who knew him. He also leaves behind a secret that reveals itself, leaving Annie with questions about the man she loved and their 30-year marriage.
Annie is Graham’s second wife. His first marriage was to Frieda and in the spirit of the times and of the atmosphere in Cambridge, where they lived, it was an open marriage. Only that didn’t work as well for Frieda as it did for Graham so they divorced. Still, they stayed close enough that even after Graham married again Frieda and their son Lucas were a part of his life with Annie and their daughter, Sarah. Annie and Frieda became good friends, each woman sharing parenting space with the other and their child. For the most part it’s a loving, balanced world, but Miller doesn’t gloss over the discomfort that arises in long term marriages and blended families. There is awkwardness and pain. Conversations before and after Graham’s death delve into divorce, being a stepchild, personal growth in a marriage, parenting, and yes, monogamy.
It’s these multi-faceted relationships and years that Miller handles so well in Monogamy. She writes with a gentle surety that makes feeling judge-y difficult. This is a big thing for me to admit, because I am usually sitting in first class on the judgement train. Which isn’t to say everyone gets a free pass. Graham, for all his love, solicitude, and boisterousness is a man-child and I have no patience left for them. That aside, Miller beautifully conveys the delicate interplay between all the characters, the complexity of their relationships, and the truth and emotions that spring up after Graham’s death. It’s important to note: this is not a thriller, mystery, or psychological drama. Nothing revealed is wildly salacious. Insofar as I’ve enjoyed dramatic reading lately I’m grateful for that. Monogamy is all it needs to be as a quiet tableau of lives in all their weakness and strength.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Harper Books in exchange for an honest review.*