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'Senator's Wife': The perilous balancing of human needs

A woman's loyalty and reserve complicate two relationships.

By Holly Fults, Times Staff Writer
Published February 17, 2008


The Senator's Wife

By Sue Miller

Knopf, 320 pages, $24.95


What compels a strong woman to stay in an unhappy marriage? Bestselling writer Sue Miller explores this question in her new novel, The Senator's Wife.

The book is an engrossing, yet unsparing, look at two women and their marriages: one newly begun and the other nearing its end. It's familiar ground for Miller (The Good Mother, While I Was Gone), who has made a career of writing about women's private lives and closest relationships.

The women meet as Meri and her husband are looking at a townhouse. Meri is immediately drawn to Delia, who lives in the adjoining house. When the younger couple moves next door, the women's friendship is launched.

Delia, the senator's wife, has endured her husband's affairs for decades. Though the affairs are no secret in political circles, they have been hushed up for the electorate. Despite his unfaithfulness, Delia and her husband have a surprisingly powerful and true attachment.

Meri and her husband have been married less than a year and have moved to New England so he can start a new job.

They soon wonder why Delia's husband appears rarely at the townhouse. Delia evades Meri's probing questions, which only feeds the younger woman's fascination. Her persistent curiosity puts a strain on the relationship.

When Meri gives birth to her first child, she is overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood and resents the utter dependence of her baby. She turns to Delia for reassurance, but Delia senses the younger woman's unspoken desire to be mothered and resists her overtures. Meri's increasing demands on the friendship intensify its stresses. Inevitably, the tension leads to a shattering, if too obvious, betrayal.

Though Miller explores the compromises that Delia makes to keep her marriage intact, she does not attempt to explain the motivations of a long-suffering wife. But her sure, skillful writing makes compelling reading.

Holly Fults can be reached at




[Last modified February 12, 2008, 17:28:34]

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