Private Life by Jane Smiley

Private Life by Jane Smiley

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A riveting new novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winner that traverses the intimate landscape of one woman’s life, from the 1880s 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 wondrously evocative historical panorama; and, above all, a masterly, unforgettable novel from one of our finest storytellers.

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Praise

“Extraordinarily powerful . . . Private Life is a quantum leap for Jane Smiley, a book that burrows deep into the psyche and stays . . . It’s not often that a work as exceptional as this comes along in contemporary American letters.”—Marie Arana, The Washington Post

Private Life is one of [Smiley's] best novels.”—Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch

“A novel rich in setting and scope”—Nina Schuyler, San Francisco Chronicle

“By the end, the reader has a sense of lives lived, of the slide from one century to the next. However complicated and different this mismatched pair—the husband so loud, the wife so quiet—we appreciate their careful portraits.”—Mameve Medwed, The Boston Globe

“A book whose enormous power sneaks up on you. . . . Unlike so many contemporary novels, which start out sure-footed but eventually lose focus, this novel keeps getting better. It’s only May, but I am ready to place Private Life on my list of best books for 2010.”—Nan Goldberg, Newark Star-Ledger


Sue Miller

About Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley is the author of numerous novels, including A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, as well as four works of nonfiction. In 2001 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She received the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature in 2006. She lives in Northern California.
Photo © Michael Lionstar
Available in paperback by Jane Smiley
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