The Senator's Wife, Sue Miller, Alfred A Knopf, 2008, 306 pp
Since reading Sue Miller's first novel twelve years ago, when it was already a decade old (The Good Mother, 1986), I've carried the idea that she was a good writer, yet for some reason I never read any more of her novels. She has written nine of them. Well, she is a good writer, especially about women: what it is like to be female in the 20th and 21st centuries from the viewpoints of different kinds of women.
In The Senator's Wife, she contrasts two women of different generations and widely different backgrounds. Delia is the senator's wife. She is in her seventies and has spent her adult life raising children and figuring out how to deal with the infidelities of a husband who is a successful politician and whom she deeply loves.
Meri came from lower class people, had a neglectful cold-hearted mother but bettered herself through education and married a young professor when she was in her 30s. She has a career and an independent outlook though she also is very much in love with her absent minded husband.
When Meri and her husband move in next door to Delia, the women form a relationship and all their stories come out. Meri needs a mother as she goes through her first pregnancy and her reactions to caring for an infant. Delia needs a daughter who does not judge her as she deals with her aging husband's illness. Ultimately neither gets what she needs.
What I liked was that Miller makes no judgements about either woman. She does make you love them both while exposing their faults and making clear the pressures under which each made her life decisions. In that way, each woman gets what she needs from the author. This is definitely a woman's book but a good one because it is truthful.