Books of the year 2010 | Alex Clark

Private Life by Jane Smiley

As the seemingly perpetual quest to find the next great American novelist unfolded on the cover of Time, the ever-wonderful Jane Smiley published Private Life. She has previously taken us to dusty farmsteads, race-courses, 14th-century Greenland and an enclosed academic community, so one has learned not to second-guess her. This time, she depicted the eventful but nonetheless unremarked-upon life of a woman from the 1880s to the 1940s, taking in small-town society, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the internment of the Japanese during the Second World War; but despite the encroachments of seismic historical moments, this was an eloquent and painful examination of the loneliness and isolation of domestic life. Franzen's Freedom was a magnificent achievement, but it's worth remembering that the contemporary panoramic novel is not the only game in town.


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