27 Dec To be Monogamous with Sue Miller: A Review
I lost my Sue Miller virginity with this title and, as publishers and reviewers boasted that this novel would be her breakthrough into the mainstream, who wouldn’t be excited to dip their toes into these review waters? There is nothing more comforting than a family-drama read that isn’t draped in literary devices to confuse the reader. Plus, there was a bookshop. So, I put my feet up and cracked the proverbial spine on this proof from Jonathan Ball Publishers.
[On a side note: I had the proof from a while back, the book is subsequently available, in all good bookshops, so I have included a picture of the cover.]
About the Book:
Here is Graham, and here is Annie; here they are in a marriage, in late middle age, in comfort. Mismatched, and yet so well matched: the bookseller with his appetite, his conviviality, his bigness; the photographer with her delicacy, her astuteness, her reserve. The children are offstage, grown-up and scattered on either coast; Graham’s first wife, Frieda, is peaceably in their lives, but not between them.
Annie is not the first love of Graham’s life but she is, he thinks, his last and greatest. Very recently, he has faltered; but he means to put it right.
Then the unthinkable happens. Now Annie stumbles in the dark: did she know all there was to know about the man who loved her? If no marriage is without its small indiscretions, how great does a betrayal have to be to break it?
A novel about marriage, family, secrets and love, Monogamy confirms Sue Miller’s place among the greatest writers at work in America today.
‘Annie had been single for seven years when she met Graham. Whenever she thought about her first marriage, even long after it had ended, her primary emotion was a kind of shame.’ (page 1)
You first meet Annie as she is trying to grapple with a very emotional divorce from her husband — she is young and feeling trapped. After a series of rebound affairs she bumps (literally) into Graham at the opening of his bookshop. This moment reminded me of those 80s romantic comedy films like Harry met Sally or You’ve Got Mail — an almost endearing meet-cute but, if you were to read it in 5 years’ time, you’d call it clichéd. Immediately you’re ‘for’ Graham and Annie and this wonderfully normal (yet beautiful) love story which they share. Graham is a divorcee himself, with a son, and by the time he meets Annie, the pair are essentially two perfect peas in a pod.
** Here’s where the spoilers start — you’ve been warned! **
Miller weaves this love story and you are completely there for it — send in the candles and bubble bath; however, it isn’t until just past the halfway mark that Sue Miller wrecks your near-to-bursting heart. In the space of a few sentences, she stomps all over it. Annie wakes up one morning next to an ice-cold Graham, who has died during the night, from something which doctors can’t really put their finger on — a heart attack, you find out later. His death destroys the very fabric of Annie’s life and the love she has so perfectly built. She is now alone — Lucas (Graham’s son from his first marriage) and Sarah (their daughter) are long flown the nest. And then there’s the matter of the bookshop, a place that practically breathes the essence of Graham. Unable to brace herself for a ceremony for Graham she foregoes this completely, fearing it might break her. Following this, Annie discovers that Graham was unfaithful during their marriage; a fact which only derails Annie further. Deceived, she becomes angry and, as a consequence, is destroyed emotionally.
Monogamy is the most perfect of novels about death, grieving, love and family; Miller writes so honestly from her characters’ point of view that it shocked me. It’s the affairs and the subtle lies — we aren’t talking massive revelations here — that ultimately destroy these characters. And, what is so wonderful about this work is that I never once considered Graham to be a pig for having an affair. I was so there for his upstanding, bedside manner and I think I felt this way because I knew, ultimately, that he did love Annie and she him. That’s what made me love this book. Miller, you are an absolute revelation with your characters and, yes, I agree with those other reviews out there, this is a very accessible yet incredibly compelling novel from Sue Miller.
3 out of 5 stars
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