Sue Miller
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Buy *Monogamy* by Sue Miller online

Sue Miller
352 pages
September 2020
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Questions of monogamy drive Miller's tender latest tale. From the opening chapters it's pretty clear why photographer Annie married barrel-chested bookseller Graham. There's the instant physical attraction of course, but the distance between them is obvious from the outset. Miller ratchets this story up with Annie's intimate preamble, a carefully constructed lament that Annie eventually finds shattered through no fault of her own. Before she met Graham, Annie had been single for seven years. Had she ever loved anyone? She's felt herself to be without love. Indeed, it seemed a kind of incapacity, a hollowness that lies within her.

Miller paints Annie as chilly and prone to self-examination (especially in her photography), that is until she meets Graham. As Annie lies awake at night thinking about Graham--his apparent joyfulness and ease, "the feeling of his rumbling voice in her ear," she recalls meeting him at his Cambridge book shop where they stood so close to each other and she could instantly feel "the wetness between her legs." This free-floating sexual alertness seems to characterize much of Monogamy, an attentiveness that begins with Graham. Middle-aged Annie revels in their happy, seemingly uncomplicated sex. She sometimes feels overwhelmed by Graham's size, his energy, and his appetite for people, music, food, and her.

About a third of the way through, Miller's focus turns to Graham. Awakening early in the morning with the newspaper spread in front of him, Graham thinks of his ex-wife, Freida, and the apartment they shared on the second floor of a sagging house on Windsor Street, Cambridge. Theirs was an open marriage. They'd agreed on it in a world that shifted and changed rapidly around them. Graham "had stepped forward into this altered universe eagerly." Their son, Lucas, was testament to the fact that they still loved each other.

Graham has been much more careful in his marriage to Annie--more faithful, "but not entirely." Graham doesn't get off scot-free. He sees Annie afresh, a graceful, delicate woman with a smile that transforms her. As Graham leaves for his day at the bookstore, Annie knows something is bothering him. Graham is desperate to find a way to create a distance. He's constantly reminding himself of those days when everything about Annie was new and everything they did together seemed a way "to claim each other."

The morning before disaster strikes, Annie can see the power of what she's captured, the anguished impossibility of their deeply felt bond. Annie, in the aftermath, is forced to deal with the aftermath of Graham's lies. One unexpected direction is Annie's rekindling with Frieda, her daughter, Sarah, and stepson Lucas. Time itself feels thick, as though Annie is living in a fog. She sees her neighbor Edith often. She talks on the phone to Sarah and Lucas and goes to her cottage in Vermont for a few days but quickly grows restless there, too. Like a veil drawn across the event, "happily ever after" appears to be nothing in the end.

Annie's sudden widowhood is the core of the novel. One is left wondering why this lengthy marriage with Graham's philandering did not destroy them. Annie thinks about the central element of their marriage, their general compatibility, and this nexusof parties, the bookstore, food, friends and occasionally, still, the sex. Annie's grief is defined through memories triggered by objects and the sense of Graham's "living presence." She weeps mostly for herself and the new life stretching out in front of her. How will she live? How on earth will she pass the days? Graham was so much at the center of her life.

Life, of course, goes on in this complicated web of love and something else among "the five of them, if you counted Lucas and Sarah." As in all of Miller's works, we gain a sensitive glimpse into how people cope and grow in a world that can and will throw most anything our way. Sharply observant and perceptive, Miller reveals painful emotional truths about love and loss, regret and betrayal (and sudden death). Annie, weighed down by grief, reflects on the promises to be made and then broken, the wounds inflicted back and forth, and the inevitable disappointments.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2020

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