A society dame with the shrill voice of a street vendor hides her lover upstairs, then steals up for nocturnal raptures. A gay king who can’t stomach his queen sends his most trusted courtier to impregnate her. A palace congested with vermin and lice harbors lamb chops and cakes tucked deep into the upholstery. A […]
One of the trickier subjects in fiction is that of the hapless suitor, besotted with love, locked in a lifelong obsession with a woman he can neither leave nor have. Yet, for all the perils of that soupy scenario, great literature has come of it. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote memorably of just such a man in “The Great Gatsby”; William Styron, in “Sophie’s Choice”; Gabriel García Márquez, in “Love in the Time of Cholera”; and Mario Vargas Llosa, in “The Bad Girl.”
A little more than midway through Jane Smiley’s extraordinarily powerful new novel, “Private Life,” the childless wife of a prominent astronomer becomes fascinated with a family of coots, ducklike birds that live on the pond near her house on Mare Island, up San Francisco Bay.
Maybe it’s because you’re not allowed to wear government-issue camouflage; maybe it’s because — when all is said and done — you’re going to war for the money. But if you’re a private military contractor fighting on foreign soil, you might as well be a cowboy looking for payday, and you won’t convince anyone you’re […]