Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2011 | People

Private Life

By Kathryn Howe

A novel that paints a portrait of an emotionally repressed, submissive woman trapped in an unhappy marriage, Private Life has been critically acclaimed as Smiley's most powerful work since her Pulitzer Prizewinning A Thousand Acres.

The book examines the life of Margaret Mayfield, born in 1870s Missouri,tracing her biography against a backdrop of key historical events in the 19th and 20th centuries-from the American Civil War to World War II. Smiley takes her readers on an unflinching journey through the conflicts and compromises made by a subservient woman in a marriage that revolves around her delusional husband's needs and demands.

One Booklist reviewer notes: "As Smiley covers in absorbing detail both private and world events--the chaos of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the wrenching death of a baby--she keeps at the center of the narrative Margaret's growing realization that she has married a madman and her subsequent attempts to deal with her marriage by becoming adept at 'the neutral smile, the moment of patient silence,' before giving in to bitterness."

Eventually, Margaret is forced to face the truth about her marriage--more importantly, the truth about herself.