By Sue Miller
Sue Miller has always been a generous writer. Of course authorial generosity can take many forms. Often the term seems to refer to how much of themselves writers are willing to share with readers, or how hard they’re willing to work to ensure that their readers’ narrative lift is no greater than it needs to be.
Not all writerly largess derives from their relationship to readers, however. It can also be about how a writer relates to her characters — her willingness to put their needs before her own. The source of such charity, I suspect, is humility, and it manifests as an eagerness to step aside, to suppress one’s ego. Such writers take on faith that, if you’re able to lose yourself in fictional others, any additional storytelling obligations will naturally fall in line or become irrelevant. Your plot is thin? So what? The pace of your narrative unexpectedly slows? You can live with it. The story assumes an odd, unanticipated shape? Well, so does life. This last is the kind of generosity that I particularly associate with Miller’s work, and it’s showcased again in her fine new novel, “Monogamy.”
It’s a rich, complex book — but in the end it’s the story of a marriage, a remarkably good one considering how mismatched this fictional husband and wife appear to be. Graham, a gregarious Cambridge bookstore owner, is a large man of outsize appetites. Quick to laugh, to eat, to drink, to tell stories, he’s a classic extrovert. By contrast his wife, Annie, is shy and private, her stature so diminutive that their friends wonder what their sex life must be like. (It’s good. Very good.) They have a daughter, Sarah, who’s big like the father she adores and works for a West Coast NPR affiliate; and Graham has a son from his first marriage: Lucas, who is a book editor in New York. The two relate to each other as siblings, and both are adults by the time the novel begins. The one thing that’s never in doubt is that Graham and Annie love each other, which some would say ought to be enough to guarantee happiness, though of course it never is.
[ Read an excerpt from “Monogamy.” ]
Miller writes: “Annie was happy too. But occasionally through their years together, and in spite of everything that was pleasurable and loving between them, she would feel it again, the sense of his having overtaken her somehow, overwhelmed her.”