Surviving high-profile marital infidelityA peek into many a woman’s handbag these days will yield a chick-lit sighting.
The sales don’t lie: Voracious readers snap up these vapid yet entertaining reads by authors such as Jane Green and Candace Bushnell.
But then there are women vehemently opposed to chick-lit, the ones who call for real literature that requires intellect and explication to truly enjoy.
Sue Miller doesn’t fit into the latter type of writer, but with “The Senator’s Wife,” published by Alfred A. Knopf, she presents readers with a novel that effectively straddles these two spheres.
Miller’s latest novel is intellectual chick-lit. She includes the requisite sex scenes to satiate the chick-lit crowd, but she’s also a gifted storyteller who creates vivid images, settings and characters.
At the core of this story are two women: First the younger Meri, a newlywed, mediocre journalist; then the older, distinguished Delia Naughton, the novel’s eponymous senator’s wife.
Miller tells their story by irregularly alternating between the two characters’ points of view.
Miller convincingly relays both personas’ thoughts, but the conspicuous structure at times proves rather jarring to the story’s flow.
Save for a few flashbacks into the 1970s and a flash-forward into present day, the bulk of the novel’s action covers mid-1993 to mid-1994.
Not coincidentally, this is during former President Bill Clinton’s first term, and Miller frequently injects the First Couple into the novel.
For example, at a party, Meri finds herself “suddenly part of a group of people discussing Bill Clinton and his sex life.” During this conversation, a stranger quips, “I hear that the man is in thrall to his own prick.”
The real-life Bill’s chronic infidelity parallels that of Tom Naughton, Delia’s husband. As Meri peels back Delia’s layers, she learns of the compromises the older woman has made in order to maintain her marriage with her largely absent husband.
In a way, Miller uses Delia’s character to project her thoughts on the compromise that must loom large in the Clintons’ own high-powered marriage.
In one of Delia’s chapters, the senator’s wife recalls:
“Once she had actually said to her old friend Madeline Dexter that she felt coming to terms with Tom’s infidelity, learning to live without him, had been the making of her? she’d made herself, remade herself, in the years of her life after he’d wrecked it.”
Remind anyone else of Hillary’s remarkable political rise in the post-Monica Lewinsky years?
However, unlike Hillary, Delia is a woman of another era.
A septuagenarian in the ’90s, Delia refashions herself in a manner far less public than Hillary, as a part-time Parisienne and museum docent ― not a senator and presidential contender.
In one of her husband Tom’s rare speaking scenes, he highlights the difference between their political era and that of the Clintons’: “?he [Clinton] could have pushed that public-private distinction harder. It’d be a gift to the political life of this country if that line got more clearly drawn. ? Still, it’s clear he enjoys women ? it’s pretty much a Washington disease, I’m afraid.”
At the intersection of The Senator’s Wife is how the happily married Meri ultimately changes Tom and Delia’s precariously balanced marriage.
Of course, as a good purveyor of intellectual chick-lit, Miller makes sure Meri does so in sensational fashion.
By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer [firstname.lastname@example.org]