Book Review of Jane Smiley's Private Life
by Linda McIntosh
The Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley writes an intimate look at one woman's life from the 1880s to World War II. By the standards of the day, Margaret Mayfield is an old maid when she marries naval officer and respected scientist Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early.
They settle at a remote California naval base, where Margaret lives an isolated life and seeks to find a place for herself. As her life broadens with a friend, charity work, and other activities, while Andrew shrinks his own, spending solitary hours studying the skies and working on failed scientific theories. Smiley chronicles this marriage and its heartbreaks and sacrifices. In the telling the novel is a historical tour of events like the San Francisco earthquake, both World Wars and the Japanese internment camps.
The old-fashioned language can be somewhat slow, but it adds to the fascinating detail of the marriage and six decades of life.