Private Life: A Novel

Front Cover
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010 - Fiction - 317 pages
40 Reviews
A riveting new novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winner that traverses the intimate landscape of one woman’s life, from the 1880s to World War II.

Margaret Mayfield is nearly an old maid at twenty-seven in post–Civil War Missouri when she marries Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early. He’s the most famous man their small town has ever produced: a naval officer and a brilliant astronomer—a genius who, according to the local paper, has changed the universe. Margaret’s mother calls the match “a piece of luck.”

Margaret is a good girl who has been raised to marry, yet Andrew confounds her expectations from the moment their train leaves for his naval base in faraway California. Soon she comes to understand that his devotion to science leaves precious little room for anything, or anyone, else. When personal tragedies strike and when national crises envelop the country, Margaret stands by her husband. But as World War II approaches, Andrew’s obsessions take a different, darker turn, and Margaret is forced to reconsider the life she has so carefully constructed.

Private Life
is a beautiful evocation of a woman’s inner world: of the little girl within the hopeful bride, of the young woman filled with yearning, and of the faithful wife who comes to harbor a dangerous secret. But it is also a heartbreaking portrait of marriage and the mysteries that endure even in lives lived side by side; a wondrously evocative historical panorama; and, above all, a masterly, unforgettable novel from one of our finest storytellers.

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

Disappointing, since Smiley is usually a great writer. - Goodreads
The greatest of these flaws is certainly its pace. - Goodreads
The ending of this book is extremely powerful. - Goodreads
This was a good story with draggy writing. - Goodreads
And I like Smiley's meticulous writing style. - Goodreads

Review: Private Life

User Review  - Jean - Goodreads

"Private Life" is ultimately the story of Margaret Mayfield's marriage to Capt./Dr. Andrew Early, and her final judgment as to whether in her lifetime she 'dared enough.' So the first part of the book ... Read full review

Review: Private Life

User Review  - Nancy - Goodreads

I listened to this book. It feels as if I have been riding around with little, clueless Margaret and her puffball genius of a husband, Dr. Andrew Early, for months. There are extremely long, carefully ... Read full review

All 3 reviews »

About the author (2010)

Jane Smiley is the author of numerous novels, including A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, as well as four works of nonfiction. In 2001 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She received the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature in 2006. She lives in Northern California.

Bibliographic information