Review of Jane Smiley’s Private Lives

Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The beginning promises a more exciting ending than the book delivers, but that’s life, isn’t it? At least, that’s Smiley’s take on life. In this book, Smiley presents an excellent and, I think, realistic character study of a woman in early 20th Century America. I don’t think the husband is as believable, but his purpose is as a foil to Margaret.

Margaret thinks a lot and talks little. Even when we know she’s engaged in conversation, Smiley often presents it in summary form without actual dialogue. Usually, that makes for a less intriguing book; that’s probably the case here. Yet, the form may be representative of Smiley’s take on the era when women were to be decorative rather than talkative. In that case, the appropriate description would be “literary.”

While, as said above, I think the character study is excellent, I don’t agree that Margaret is representative of women of her era. Indeed, there are plenty of lesser female characters in this novel who prove women can be outspoken and establish lives of their own. Margaret simply failed to do so. Is this innate or due to childhood trauma? That’s left to the reader to conclude.

The fact that it took me a month to read this book should lower my rating, but it could be that I had a busy August. Overall, I found the book pleasant to read and enjoyed the detailed descriptions of the Bay area and costumes of the times.

View all my reviews