As the oldest of three sisters raised and trained for marriage, twenty-seven year old Margaret Mayfield considers herself an old maid. Set to live as a companion to her widowed mother, Margaret's taken by surprise when Missourian Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson Early asks her to marry him. As the most famous man in their small town, who had "changed the universe," the reticent, yet gifted astronomer, seemed a decent match for the bookish Margaret.
Set from the 1880s to the early days of World War II, the novel A Private Life by Jane Smiley was a delightful and thoughtful examination of the expectations of marriage, a look at a tumultuous time and place, and a glimpse into the inner dialogue of a intelligent woman disappointed by what life brought her.
Margaret concludes, "Their lives were mostly private now, lived side by side as necessary, but whatever there had been for them both - in the earthquake or the moon break or their hopes - had dissipated the way certain qualities of light did."