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Private Life

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3.18  ·  Rating details ·  3,120 Ratings  ·  671 Reviews
A riveting new novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winner that traverses the intimate landscape of one woman’s life, from the 1880s to World War II.

Margaret Mayfield is nearly an old maid at twenty-seven in post–Civil War Missouri when she marries Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early. He’s the most famous man their small town has ever produced: a naval officer and a brilliant
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Hardcover, 321 pages
Published May 4th 2010 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2010)
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Wanda
Feb 22, 2011 rated it did not like it
Ok, that’s it. No more Jane Smiley for me. Hubby and I have tried 1000 Acres and wound up giving up on that finding Smiley's focus on the mundane details of EVERYTHING to be incredibly tedious, characters unappealing, and totally in need of a good editor to cut it down by 75%..
Now comes Private Life, which from the publisher’s blurb sounded like an intriguing story. Not. It is a character study straight out of DSM – see Dependent Personality Disorder. And, while this could be fairly interesting
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Shifra
May 24, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I am a great fan of Jane Smiley. And because I am I kept waiting patiently for the story to pick up. the story takes place between 1883 and 1942. The main characters Margaret a sweet but not particularly dynamic woman who at 27 marries Dr. Andrew Jefferson Early a Navy Captain and scientist. I found it disturbing witnessing 30 years plus of marriage with Andrew never stopping to be selfish and even worse creating insane scientific hypothesis. The period of time covered was a dramatic exciting ti ...more
Ann
Jan 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Sometimes, when I finish a book, I like to read what others have written, just to see if I agree. This time, I couldn't disagree more. Several people commented that this is the story of a loveless, arranged marriage. Andrew proposed to Margaret and she accepted, so it was not arranged. She traveled across country with him, leaving behind family, friends and her the comfort of the known. Although both mother's plotted to get the two of them together, they did not force the marriage. In an arrange ...more
Brenda C Kayne
Oct 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Only until the last paragraph is read does one come to the realization that this is a cautionary tale on both domestic and worldly levels. In this story, choices are made regarding marriage, social convention, and what to do when one is confronted with a mixture of genius, insanity, and power. The atmosphere is set in the mid-west (oh, how Jane Smiley knows the mid-west)and in San Francisco during the early part of this century. (Yes, it could be a very good movie.)

This book has a graduating in
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Susan
Dec 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
As i was reading Jane Smiley's most recent novel, my husband commented that world events did not enter Jane Austen's Emma. What a contrast from Private Life, in which the protagonist Margaret Mayfield Early bears witness to the aftermath of the American Civil War, the San Francisco earthquake, the First World War, anarchy, Pearl Harbor and the national paranoia that came afterwards, as well as the most important scientific advances. Margaret is more forward-looking than her domineering and misgu ...more
Dagný
May 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I'm well into it-and liking it very much.

Finished. In the meantime I read the NYT Michiko Kakutani's review, or shall I say trashing, of the book. I totally disagree with her, as I liked this book very much and found it unique and deep in a way that Kakutani's superficial reading seems not to access.

The time/setting is the early part of the 20th century, in Missouri and California. A timid girl is married to a local standout, an educated and promising fellow, who feels he has understood the uni
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Veronica
Aug 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is what might have happened to Dorothea in Middlemarch if she hadn't had the good fortune of Mr Casaubon dying and setting her free. This book is no Middlemarch, but it is an excruciating portrait of a sterile marriage in the first half of the 20th century, between a too-timid woman with no other options, and a brilliant but increasingly deranged astronomer. It's slow at first, but the last third of the book, as Margaret slowly begins to see her husband as others see him, and finally realis ...more
Lynne Spreen
Dec 09, 2013 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Meegan McCorkle
Oct 07, 2011 rated it liked it
This was a fascinating, if slower-paced, novel. And ultimately, it was a very sad novel, with Margaret realizing at the end of her life that she should have lived it more consciously, not letting it slide by, with key decisions made for her. Not regret you want to feel: a sense of life unfulfilled.

As a girl, Margaret has such promise: the spark of life that has her running up and down her town's main street, with a mind advanced and shaped by a passion for reading. But then no suitable man appe
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Harold Titus
Jan 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
“Private Life” by Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Jane Smiley is a third-person narrated account of the life -- from the age of five in 1883 to the age of 64 in 1942 -- of an accommodating, submissive woman, Margaret (Mayfield) Early, who, finally, out of necessity must assert herself. I felt that Smiley’s narration, a consequence of Margaret’s compliant nature, lacked excitement until maybe a fourth of the way into the book when she marries her husband, Captain Andrew Early, an egotistical astr ...more
Laurie Gray
Sep 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
“Private Life” by Jane Smiley tracks the life of Margaret Mayfield from her youth in Post-Civil War Missouri through her life as Mrs. Andrew Early in California during WWII. Smiley begins with the Rose Wilder Lane quote “In those days all stories ended with the wedding.” Rather than a fairytale “happily-ever-after,” though, Smiley delves into the life of a “good woman” who submits to convention and allows her marriage to define her. Margaret describes herself as the third sister, even though she ...more
Elizabeth Sulzby
Jul 08, 2012 rated it liked it
I do not agree with the publisher's blurb that this is a riveting tale. It is a story that shows how the young woman retains her privacy and doubts about her supposedly so spectacular scholar of a husband. The story is carried in part by the young man's mother and letters that she had written to her son over the decades, urging him to take his great mind and to be humble with it. The wife learns that the accusation of misuse of data against her husband when he was young is not the end of his pre ...more
Lianne
Aug 09, 2011 added it
There are a handful of living women writers whose new works are required reading. For me, Jane Smiley is one of them, all the more so because she lives in Carmel and I like to follow how her world view and attitude continue to evolve. Although many of Jane Smiley's novels are set in contemporary life, she sets this one in the late Victorian period,and finishes in 1943, after Pearl Harbor.She explores the mysteries of married life from the point of view of Margaret,a compliant protected young wom ...more
Nancy Hamilton
Apr 29, 2013 rated it liked it
I listened to this book on my iPod, and it seems to me that this is a book best enjoyed in listening to it. The gentle, straight-forward narrative mirrors the internal life of Margaret, the protagonist, an ordinary, submissive, rather passive housewife, married to a scientist. The book follows her through her girlhood in 19th century Missouri through her marriage to Andrew Early, the most successful man ever to emerge from their little town, to their lives together in California, up through WWII ...more
Raima Larter
Mar 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book--in fact, I bought it in hardcover, since everything else I've read by Jane Smiley has been superb, so why would this be any different? My two-star review is a reflection of the fact that I gave up partway in, unable to force myself to read any further.

The book opens with a riveting sequence that takes place in post-WWII San Francisco. I was immediately pulled in and wanted to know more about what had led to this situation involving Japanese citizens (or, possibly, no
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Laurel-Rain
Apr 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Margaret Mayfield was considered to be the least attractive daughter in the family—mostly because of her somewhat unappealing personality—and these very qualities were whispered about by neighbors and relatives. So when a very bright man, Andrew Early—a bit older than Margaret, who at twenty-seven was considered to be an "old maid"—appears to be courting her, everyone is pleased.

Margaret's mother Lavinia and Andrew's mother Anna seem to be negotiating for this union.

Margaret herself is impressed
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Erika Nerdypants
This is one of those books that you don't merely read, but rather fall into. Jane Smiley is the queen of details for me, and this is no exception. Very little in this story is told to the reader, everything is shown, in extravagant little details that I concede, some might find excessive, but so appeal to me. The story chronicles the life of Margaret, a quiet, obedient young woman, from 1883 to 1942. Initially not all that interested in marriage, she follows convention when marriage is proposed ...more
Martha
Far from "riveting" (publisher's blurb). The writing is, of course, up to Jane Smiley's usual high standard, and Kate Reading's reading (ha! was there ever a better name for an audiobook narrator?) is excellent, though I didn't really care for protagonist Margaret's voice. But nothing ever really seemed to come to anything. Shows that a realistic reflection of life does not necessarily make a good novel. For much of the novel, I felt as trapped as Margaret.
Saleh MoonWalker
Aug 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, historical
Private Life evokes the marriage between a bright but stifled woman from small-town Missouri and an astronomer whose scientific obsession—itself a fascinating window into American intellectual history—takes on a sinister cast in the years leading up to World War II.
Keirstan
May 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley's latest offering Private Life details the lumbering but inevitable evolution of Margaret Mayfield. Beginning in 1880, Smiley details the premise of Margaret's life: scarred early by the abrupt deaths of her two brothers and father, Margaret finds herself the old maid (at 27) of a small Missouri town outside of St. Louis. Seemingly content to spend her life reading books and assisting in the lives of her mothers and sisters, Margaret happens upon what appears at ...more
Mary Miller
Mar 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
To say that this book is deceptive is putting it mildly. I picked up the audio at the library, knowing nothing about it except that it is by Jane Smiley.
A brief description would say that "Private Life" is a novel about a woman's life from the late 1800's through the early years of World War II. Margaret Mayfield grew up in rural Missouri, one of three surviving daughters of her widowed mother. She is quiet and unremarkable, but observant. At age 27, Margaret marries a self-described genius. Cap
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Ann
Jan 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books that I bought cheap at Borders' going out of business sales. I bought it because of the good reviews and because I know that Smiley is a very talented writer; I avoided reading it because of the blurb on the back from the Atlantic Monthly calling it "heartbreaking, bitter." The Atlantic goes on to call it a "gorgeous story." It is all those things.

The heroine, Margaret, is steered into marriage by her mother. Margaret is 27 and virtually an old maid. Her husband, Andre
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Laurie
Jul 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Moving from the late-nineteenth century through World War II, and crossing North America from Missouri to California, this novel is the story of the unhappy and increasingly distant marriage of Margaret and Andrew Early. Always an unlikely couple, the Earlys' marriage grows more troubled over time. By her late twenties Margaret was in danger of living her life as a perpetual spinster. Andrew, a troubled and headstrong scientist, dismissed in shame from his faculty position in Chicago, charms Mar ...more
Maia
Jan 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Jane Smiley will always be one of my favorite modern authors, and I'm always drawn in by her narrative voice. That said, I've been much more impressed by every one of her books, novellas and short stories BEFORE the wondrous Pulitzer Prize winning A Thousand Acres, than any that came afterwards. Sometimes as I read her writing today I get the feeling that her talent and her vision were steadily gearing up to her major work, A Thousand Acres, and that in some ways she lost creative steam afterwar ...more
Peggy
May 04, 2010 rated it liked it
This was a good story with draggy writing. The wordiness of the book cut down on my enjoyment. the book was well researched but there were just too many details. I would not have finished it if it were not for the characters, especially Margaret and the Kimura Family.

Margaret Mayfield Early's life from post civil war through pre World War II is told in the book. Margaret was raised to be a wife. When she finally marries at age 27, which is considered "Old Maid" territory, she is wed to Andrew E
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Jennifer
Jun 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that defy the back cover description. Sure, it's accurate about the plot which really doesn't sound too interesting. What could be so compelling about one woman's life, the typical nuances of fate that make up one person's existence? And the character herself is not particularly noteworthy, the times she lives in are of interest but not extremely so. And yet this book came to life for me the way only a small percentage do. It was real and solid and full of minor epipha ...more
Allyson
Aug 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
This was a disappointing read- and I really did not like the ending. I liked her writing and she developed her character well, but Margaret just was not very interesting. Her husband Andrew was incredibly annoying and the various characters she introduced along the way were okay, but it just slogged through lives and times randomly without any seeming purpose. And yet it felt while I was reading she was headed toward a grand ending. or at least I hoped she was. Andrew was a complete waste of a c ...more
Steve
Jun 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
As with most Smiley novels I've read, it's an enjoyable tale, filled with intimate details of the way her main character views the people and the world around her. There is a sense of Forest Gumpness, as major world events interact with her private life, but Smiley handles this with one foot on the impressive research and the other foot on the personal touches and distinctive reactions that people have to forces of history. In fact, there is a dialectic between the ways individuals can affect hi ...more
Sarah
May 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Smiley has written a finely crafted but frustrating novel, set on a wide and epic canvas (the San Francisco earthquake, WW I and WW II, Spanish flu, spies, internment). In spite of these great events, her real canvas is the daily and private life of a quiet, passive woman who loses respect for her husband over many years. The husband was a brilliant young man with great energy and theories about (literally) the universe. She is supportive for many (many, many) years, as he fails utterly in his c ...more
Mary Frances
Feb 07, 2014 rated it liked it
I like Jane Smiley, and found this book readable but curiously flat- like it's heroine. I read it pretty quickly but even so it never fully drew me in. The image of a husband who has a loose grip on reality, being arrogant,brilliant and without any ability to find fault in himself certainly rang true, as good a portrayal of someone with a personality disorder as I have read, but I never could connect with the inert long-suffering wife. Nor did I ever see any chemistry between her and the Japanes ...more
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Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained a A.B. at Vassar College, then earned a M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar
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“She knew she had become the strange sort of lady that she remembered noticing as a child, the sort of lady who was always neat and kind, whose house was quiet because there were no children, who hosted the knitting circle and kept small treats around in case some child might be in need of a licorice whip or a shortbread cookie.” 1 likes
“She was almost sixty and she had not been to London, or Paris, or Rome, and there was no going there now. Yes, she was balanced, as she had gotten into the habit of congratulating herself for being. But, she saw, she was balanced on a very narrow perch.” 0 likes
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