Booklist Reviews 2010 February #1
In her latest novel, after Ten Days in the Hills (2007), the Pulitzer Prize–winning author offers a cold-eyed view of the compromises required by marriage while also providing an intimate portrait of life in the Midwest and West during the years 1883–1942. By the time she reaches the age of 27, Margaret Mayfield has known a lot of tragedy in her life. She has lost two brothers, one to an accident, the other to illness, as well as her father, who committed suicide. Her strong-minded mother, Lavinia, knows that her daughter's prospects for marriage are dim and takes every opportunity to encourage Margaret's friendship with eccentric scientist Andrew Early. When the two marry and move to a naval base in San Francisco, Margaret becomes more than Andrew's helpmeet—she is also his cook, driver, and typist as well as the captive audience for his rants against Einstein and his own quirky theories about the universe. As Smiley covers in absorbing detail both private and world events—a lovely Missouri wedding, 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. Smiley casts a gimlet eye on the institution of marriage even as she offers a fascinating glimpse of a distant era. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2010 January #1
Margaret Mayfield is finally getting married-to naval officer and respected scientist Capt. Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early, no less. Alas, he's completely obsessed with his work, and by World War II-after decades of marriage-this obsession is becoming dangerous. Smiley goes historical-and she always knows her stuff. With a six-city tour; reading group guide. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
LJ Reviews 2010 March #1
In 1905 Missouri, quiet 27-year-old Margaret Mayfield marries Capt. Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early, a naval officer and an astronomer who is considered a genius and a little odd. By the time they make their way by train to their new life in California, the reader understands that Captain Early is actually somewhat crazy in his obsessions. This is a conclusion that Margaret herself is slow to draw, even as their lives together grow more troubled. Smiley (Ten Days in the Hills) reminds us how difficult it was for all but the boldest women to extract themselves from suffocating life situations 100 years ago. While dealing with intimate matters, this novel also has an epic sweep, moving from Missouri in the 1880s to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, up to the Japanese internment camps of World War II, with the scenes from Margaret's Missouri childhood reminiscent of Willa Cather. VERDICT Not a highly dramatic page-turner but rather a subtle and thoughtful portrayal of a quiet woman's inner strength, this may especially appeal to readers who have enjoyed Marilynne Robinson's recent Gilead and Home. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/09.]—Leslie Patterson, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence, RI[Page 80]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
PW Reviews 2010 January #4
The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Thousand Acres delivers a slow-moving historical antiromance in her bleak 13th novel. In the early 1880s, Margaret Mayfield is rescued from old maid status by Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early, an astronomer whose questionable discoveries have taken him from the scientific elite to a position as a glorified timekeeper at a remote California naval base. Margaret's world is made ever smaller as the novel progresses, with no children to distract her and Andrew more excited by his telescope than his wife. Isolation and boredom being two dominant themes, the book is a slow burn, punctuated by detours into the larger world: the Wobblies, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and both world wars. The old-fashioned language can be off-putting, though it does make the reader feel like a reluctant second wife to Andrew as his failed scientific theories are revealed in tedious detail and the gruesome monotony of marriage is portrayed in a repellant but fascinating fashion. Thus, when Margaret finally realizes her marriage is "relentless, and terrifying," it feels wonderfully satisfying, but the proceeding 100 pages offer a trickle of disappointment and a slackening of suspense that saps hard-earned goodwill. (May)[Page 90]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.