It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!
As always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read Monogamy by Sue Miller! There are definitely spoilers ahead.
Annie and Graham have been mainly happily married for more than 30 years. Annie was briefly married before she met Graham and together they have a daughter. Graham has a son from a previous marriage, a marriage that ended because he cheated on his first wife. Annie is a photographer who is coming back into a productive period of her career, and Graham owns a bookstore, hosting authors and literary events. And then Graham dies suddenly and while grieving the loss of a wonderful husband, Annie finds out that maybe he wasn’t so wonderful after all. Now Annie must come to terms with their marriage, how she feels about her husband now that he’s gone, while protecting his children from what she’s discovered.
Honestly? I really despise books that are billed as thoughtful, interesting, literary because they have to do with cheating. Oh I could never read another book about a middle aged white man cheating on his wife and be so very happy. I’m not saying I want all the characters I read about to be flawless and be wonderful to each other. But a story about an old guy cheating on his wife after so many years where she’s worked to make him happy (and the wives always sacrifice their careers or something to make the husband’s life easier and better) is so unoriginal. There’s no doubt that Sue Miller is a good writer, I just had a hard time reading this story again.
Also, all of the characters seemed to have a thing against their mothers which, again, is so tired. Graham talks to his friend about how his mother should have tried harder to keep his dad around (his abusive, alcoholic father), his friend also feels like his mother let him down, Graham’s son, Lucas, can’t stand his mother, feels like she’s the reason he didn’t get the relationship he wanted with his father, even Annie blames her mother for not making more of an effort to ensure that their family was ‘cultured’. When Lucas has a baby with his own wife, a woman he adores, suddenly he sees her as a mother, as a thing that feeds his child, and he’s kind of repulsed and relieved when she leaves to visit her family for a month.
What does the book say about being a wife?
I’m not sure that the book talked about being a wife, as much as it explored marriage. Monogamy explores the idea of a long-term committed relationship but it seems like most of the marriages in this book fall prey to infidelity. At the very beginning, when we meet Annie, she is fresh out of her first marriage and she feels free.
So she was free, at twenty-nine. Which should have made her feel liberated, expansive. And she did, in some ways. Except that for a long while after the divorce, she was uncomfortable around men. For at least a year, maybe longer, she read almost every gesture, every remark, as controlling, as dangerous for her. (p.3)
For this Annie, then, marriage would seem to be a cage. A way for a man to trap her and keep her. In some ways, this does come to pass with Graham. He works at his bookstore, cultivating relationships with interesting people, bringing them to their home for dinner parties (that Annie plans and cooks for allowing Graham to hold court), while Annie pauses her photography career to stay closer to home and care for their child. And all of this is worth it to Annie, until she finds out that Graham has cheated on her. We know that it was not just once with one woman but that this had been a pattern of behaviour throughout their marriage.
Mostly, Monogamy is
an old tired story that’s all, the damaged person who can’t be held responsible for the damage he causes. (p. 58)
Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in September when we’ll discuss The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler.