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'Monogamy': Sue Miller Explores Complicated Relationships In New Novel

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Sue Miller is the author of "Monogamy," a story of a woman, her grief over the death of her husband and her handling of his infidelity.
Sue Miller is the author of "Monogamy," a story of a woman, her grief over the death of her husband and her handling of his infidelity.

In Sue Miller’s latest novel, "Monogamy," Annie is a happy wife. Her husband, Graham, is a man with a magnetic personality and big appetites. One day, he seems preoccupied and distant, but her anxiety dissolves when he presents her with flowers. 

They eat a decadent meal and have plenty of wine. All is well again. The next morning, Graham doesn’t wake up. Annie tries to survive the next few days in a vast ocean of grief and mourning. And then after Graham’s memorial service, she learns the explosive reason for his earlier distracted behavior. Annie, a widow, hears about it from the other woman.

The discovery that Graham was unfaithful to Annie in the days leading up to his death is a devastating blow to Annie. As she discovers this news — from his weeping paramour herself — she feels her profound sorrow bubble up through her body as anger — a kind of rage she has never experienced. And she must suppress the anger, too. Hide it from his children and those who loved him best. For Annie, to do anything else would be another betrayal.

Sue Miller is the best-selling novelist and author of "Monogamy." She spoke to us from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Highlights from the interview with Sue Miller

On the character of “Graham” in the novel

Just before he and Frieda split up, [Graham] had begun to change with the '60s, and suddenly people began physically to look very different. And Graham had been sort of, I guess I've characterized him as a little bit dorky-looking at a certain point in his life. He grows his hair out and sheds his glasses and becomes better looking and sort of compelling looking and begins to attract women. And then he sort of enjoys that very much. And from that he moves into being somewhat sexy, although he's not a likely character for that, but he is. He comes back and sort of embraces all the sexual freedoms of the '60s, too, so that he becomes more secure about that issue anyway, but he characterizes himself in the book at one point as just the big needy baby. And there is some sense of that, but he really is compelled to draw people to himself, but he can. That's also what's interesting about him is that he’s compelling even though he's sort of driven to be compelling. 

On Graham’s two wives

They're so different, one from another, very much so. They somehow find a way to become friends. In the book I talked about the fact that they go through a period where the mother of each of them is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer's disease. So they have that to share. And then it turns out also that each child — Graham and Annie's child, Sarah, and Frieda, and Graham's son, Lucas — each of them makes a sort of switch. That is to say, Lucas is very drawn to Annie who is not his mother and is sort of in a bad state in his adolescence. And then subsequently with his mother and Sarah, who's hard for Annie to understand, but is very drawn to Frieda and finds a kind of mothering figure in Frieda. And each of the mothers is very glad for that, that each child has a resource. And so that, too, is part of the really complex arrangement of love — trust among all these people. I was just interested in tracing how complicated, how rich and the intersections of that kind of family can become and has become over the years.

On managing the promotion of her novel during a pandemic

Oh, it's very strange. I mean, it's all happening online, and so in a certain way, it's easier than the usual book tour where you're getting on an airplane and going someplace else, not sleeping very well in hotels, and so forth. So, I've surprised myself by enjoying this part of it. It's just been a lovely sort of response by the publishers and certain sort of pre-publication reviews and discussions of the book. I'll be 77 this fall, and it just feels like a new start. It's been six years since I had a book out and I just am very happy. I'm not sure. I hope I'll write another book, but I'm not sure of it, and this book makes me very happy. This book was hard to write, but I loved the characters so much; they kept me good, good company.

Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.

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