There are lots of really good things about my Book Club Christmas meal. Firstly, the food at the Red Lion is always tasty, secondly, my fellow Tuesday bookworms are great company and thirdly, we have a ‘Secret Santa’. Everyone brings a gift-wrapped book that they have enjoyed, or thinks that someone else might enjoy. We tip them into a big sack and each guest pulls out a book at random. Our January meeting is always spent discussing our surprise read.’The Senator’s Wife’, by Sue Miller was my Secret Santa pick.
Meri and Nathan are young newlyweds who buy a house adjoined to that of Tom Naughton, a former US senator, and his wife, Delia. Meri and Delia form a friendship of sorts, which leads to Meri discovering that actually Tom and Delia have not lived together for many years, although they have never divorced. When her husband suffers a stroke, Delia is wiling to care for Tom and brings him back into their home with gratitude. Tom is home. She calls upon Meri to sit with her invalid husband, in return for which she offers to babysit for the young couple’s baby son. But this arrangement shatters the older woman’s new-found happiness, when Meri abuses Delia’s trust.
In ‘The Senator’s Wife’, the author explores what happens when you are compelled to love, despite your rational judgement. Delia loves Tom unconditionally, because she can’t help it, because a life where she shares him with his other lovers is better than a life without him at all. I guess we would all agree that we would never stay with a serial philanderer, because that seems like the logical thing to say, when it’s just a hypothesis. But you can never judge a woman until you have walked a mile in her shoes: we may all put up with more than we might imagine, just to be in our lovers’ arms even some of the time.
One thing I will add is that I found the ending of this book bizarre and unsatisfying. Meri is not a likeable character; she does something which I personally found quite repulsive, and then seeks to justify her actions with a totally unconvincing explanation.
‘The Senator’s Wife’ is a good example of how I don’t necessarily have to enjoy a book to find it memorable! It is a poignant, insightful work with beautifully drawn characters. Miller tackles painful truths about the nature of love and marriage. I’m looking forward to a lively debate – assuming that the person who donated it, has read it!