The Senator’s Wife
Maybe some people just like to keep things private. Secret, I guess you’d say.
Love came late to Meri, but in a rush: she met Nathan at thirty-six, he moved in a month later, and they married a month after that. Now they are moving to New England and a house of their own – a new life that Meri is not sure she even wants. She loves her husband, but feels there may be trouble ahead.
Nathan, however, is boyishly excited that their next-door neighbour is the eminent Senator Tom Naughton, a political hero of his, now in his seventies. The Senator is nowhere to be seen, but Meri strikes up an unexpected friendship with his wife, the elegant Delia, sensing that she has much to learn from her – about marriage, love and motherhood. But soon she comes close to a terrible breach of trust that could ruin everything.
This novel, set mainly in the early years of the Clinton administration in America, is about two women who live next door to each other. Delia, the Senator’s wife of the title, and the younger Meri, who has recently moved and finds herself fascinated by her new neighbour.
Meri becomes obsessed with finding out more about her enigmatic neighbour, and through her actions, the reader is treated to a backstory which gives significance to the novel’s title. Senator Tom Naughton is a charismatic, attractive politician, and so it probably wouldn’t surprise many people that fidelity is not necessarily one of his strengths. What I found most interesting about Miller’s novel was how Delia chose to deal and live with this. I had a very strong sense of who she was as a person, yet in spite of being a strong character, a huge part of her identity is in being Tom’s wife, much to the chagrin of her children at times.
Meri, meanwhile, finds a job she loves and then falls pregnant. The physicality of pregnancy and childbirth isn’t shied away from here, and neither is the struggle and strain of motherhood. But it was in Meri’s story that I struggled to engage. I wanted to feel empathy for her situation, but I just couldn’t really like her. I don’t know if that was intentional from Miller or not, but I was much more interested in Delia’s ups and downs with trusting her husband than I was with Meri. But it is Meri’s dubious actions and breach of trust that means we find out more about Delia in the first place.
Really, not a lot happens in this novel. A family breakdown in one house, and new beginnings in the other. As the story progresses the two strands come together, to where we were heading all along. Trust can’t be doled out infinitely.
I thought Sue Miller’s novel about these two women was really interesting, and is definitely worth a read. Missing for me though was a sense of reality from quite a realistic story. Perhaps by not liking Meri, I wasn’t truly able to involve myself in the story, and missed out. In spite of this, it certainly got me thinking.