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Monday, September 28, 2020

Two terrific tales of marriage

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

Marriage is a topic that is ripe to be explored in depth in a novel, and this month’s Book Report features two novels that take a look at marriage in two different stages.

Sue Miller’s latest entry into fiction is Monogamy. Graham and Annie have been married for thirty years, a second marriage for each. Graham owns a bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Annie is a photographer, currently working on a show in a local gallery that she hopes will revitalize her career. 

They met years ago when Annie attended the grand opening party of Graham’s store. Annie married young and divorced her husband after six years. Graham’s wife Frieda left him because, although she agreed to the idea of an open marriage, the reality of living it devastated her.

Graham and Frieda remained friendly, coparenting their son Lucas, now working in publishing in New York. Frieda and Annie became friends too, and Frieda is always a part of their family celebrations. Annie and Graham’s adult daughter Sarah lives on the west coast.

Graham was a big man, taking up a lot of space. He was always the life of any party, gregarious, making everyone feel important. Annie was quieter, some people may have even thought her a bit cold. Her career as a photographer, seeing life through the lens of a camera, suited her personality. They have a happy marriage, enjoy each other’s company, share in each other’s successes.

On the eve of Annie’s big show, she wakes up to find Graham dead in bed next to her. We watch as Annie has to deal with the multitude of things that need to be taken care of, as well as her own grief.

At a memorial service for Graham, Annie discovers that he had been unfaithful to her. This guts her, and causes her to reassess her entire marriage to Graham. Why did this happen? Was he incapable of fidelity?

Miller deftly explores the history of a marriage and loss, and the reader becomes completely absorbed in the emotional aftermath of Graham’s death. We see Annie and Graham through the eyes of their daughter who says “My mother is always okay. That is the division of labor in my family. My mother holds it all in, my father lets it out.” 

Monogamy is a quiet book, with characters who are so well drawn we feel as though we know them. Sue Miller is at the top of her game with this beautifully written story.

If you want to read a novel for Hispanic Heritage Month Angie Cruz’ novel, Dominicana is a great one. Fifteen year-old Ana lives in the countryside in the Dominican Republic in 1964. Her family struggles financially, and when an older local man, Juan Ruiz, has his eye on her, Ana’s mother is thrilled. 

Juan travels to New York City, where he has an apartment and works many jobs. Ana’s mother believes that if Ana marries Juan, it will enable the entire family to emigrate to the United States where they can make money and have a better life.

Ana does not want to marry Juan, but has no choice. She must do this for her family. She travels to New York where she is expected to cook and clean for Juan and his brother Cesar, who also lives with them. She speaks no English, and is not allowed to leave the apartment.

We see 1965 New York City through the eyes of these hard working immigrants. Juan and Cesar line up daily outside a hotel, hoping to be chosen as day worker in the kitchen or as a bellboy. They work two or three jobs, often in a single day, to make enough money to send home to fulfill their dream of opening a restaurant.

Ana does not love Juan, he can be abusive and demanding. She is lonely, and wants to learn English and get a job to have her own money. She’s not allowed to make any friends.

When there is political upheaval in the Dominican Republic, Juan returns home to protect his property. That leaves Cesar to keep watch over Ana. Cesar allows Ana more freedom, and she experiences life in New York on a different level. She and Cesar become closer as well.

It’s interesting to read an immigrant story set in this time period, to see New York City in 1965 through their eyes. It’s not a story often told. This celebrated book is a Good Morning America Book Club pick.

Monogamy by Sue Miller- A

Published by HarperCollins

Hardcover, $28.99, 352 pages

Dominicana by Angie Cruz-A

Published by Flatiron Books

Trade paperback, $16.99, 336 pages

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