Wednesday, September 9, 2020


Monogamy by Sue Miller
HarperCollins: 9/8/20
review copy; 352 pages

Monogamy by Sue Miller is a highly recommended character-driven domestic drama about marriage, love, family, happiness and sorrow.

Graham and Annie McFarlane have been married for nearly thirty years. They were both married previously but now their long and devoted relationship is well known and admired by friends. Graham is a big, outgoing bookstore owner whose gregarious nature is an essential part of his personality. In contrast Annie is small, reserved, introspective photographer. Just as she is preparing for her first gallery show in six years, Graham suddenly dies. Annie is mourning him and wondering how she can go on when she finds out he was having an affair which he ended just before his death. Annie is heartbroken, but feeling betrayed over his unfaithfulness. She thought their marriage was strong and that she was the love of Graham's life, so how could he have an affair? How could he be unfaithful to her?

This is a character-driven novel so we are provided with insight into Graham, Annie, Frieda (Graham's first wife and Annie's friend) and their two adult children, Lucas and Sarah. We meet Annie and Graham when they first met and started their relationship. Then the novel jumps ahead in time. The readers learn of Graham's affair and know about it long before Annie, so when he dies and Annie is drowning in grief, it creates a tension of what is left unsaid. When she learns of the affair, the novel changes. There is still grief, but also anger that she needs to suppress and hide from their children and others. The novel becomes much more thoughtful after Annie learns of the affair and begins to question their whole life together.

As expected the quality of the writing is excellent. She handles descriptions with a lyrical, poetic writing style. Miller delivers in this character-driven drama, covering both the realistic characters and depicting the inner working of their lives. The novel progresses with multiple layers of complexities, introspection, memories, and inner turmoil.  Those who have experienced a loss of someone close to them will understand the characters. Ultimately the question is how well do we really know those we love?

There are a few issues. First, for me, neither Graham nor Annie are all that appealing as characters and I really wondered if I wanted to read it. After his death, the novel begins to deal with some real issues and insight into the characters. Then the novel begins to drone on a bit too long and becomes tiresome. It's a very good novel, but it could have used some editing.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins

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