Monday, March 28, 2016

Miller's Valley

Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen
Random House: 4/5/16
eBook review copy; 272 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9780812996081

Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen is a highly recommended family drama.

Mimi (Mary Margaret) Miller tells the story of her family's life in Miller's Valley in rural Pennsylvania. Her family has lived in the valley for generations. She says of her hometown: "When I got older I realized that the majority of people in Miller’s Valley were the most discontented kind of Americans, working people whose situations hadn’t risen or fallen over generations, but who still carried a little bit of those streets-paved-with-gold illusions and so were always annoyed that the streets were paved with tar. If they were paved at all."

After the prologue, her narration begins when she is eleven. She sells corn by the side of the road in the summer and eavesdrops via the heat vent on her parent's discussions. Mimi knows that the government is trying to buy up the farms in the valley before declaring eminent domain in order to build the dam they have been planning. She is a bright girl who is interested in science and she knows that there is more going on than the scientists are telling people. Her mother, a nurse, is a practical no-nonsense woman who realizes that it is inevitable that they will eventually have to leave while her father wants to stay on his family's land no matter what. In the opening we know that Mimi's mother says about flooding the valley, “Let them,” she said. “Let the water cover the whole damn place.”

Miller's Valley is about the inevitability of eminent domain, but primarily about Mimi's role in her family and her life. In the novel she is looking back at her life, family, and friends during the 1960's and 70's. Mimi's two older brothers are polar opposites. Edward, the oldest, is a good student who leaves town, goes to college, and marries. Her brother Tommy is a charming underachiever who is their mother's favorite, but a decided prodigal. He enlists and returns a changed man.  Her Aunt Ruth, her mother's sister, is an agoraphobic who lives in a nearby house on the property whose inability to leave the house raises the constant ire of her mother. Mimi has a serious relationship with a questionable boyfriend and shoulders more than her fair share of responsibilities at a cost to her.

The writing is insightful as Mimi observes the people around her. There are family secrets, uneven friendships, and questionable loyalties as Mimi navigates her way through to adulthood. At the end of the book Mimi sums up her life to date, neatly covering decades, making Miller's Valley a sort of memoir about Mimi's coming of age during that time.

The writing is quite good and Quindlen has some keen insights into human behavior as she negotiates Mimi recollections and actions during this troubled time of maturation, turmoil, and questions. Not everything has a resolution, much like life itself. but there is a sense of satisfaction that the story has been told.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Random House for review purposes.

No comments: