Saturday, March 19, 2016

Miller's Valley

Title:  Miller's Valley
Author:  Anna Quindlen
Publication Information:  Random House. 2016. 272 pages.
ISBN:  0812996089 / 978-0812996081

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was a put-up job, and we all knew it by then."

Favorite Quote:  "For years I thought it was pretty remarkable that I'd managed to hide from my mother what I'd done that winter, but later on it occurred to me, maybe because I knew so much about about my own kids that they didn't know I knew, that my mother had known all along. There's a way you can let things happen without acknowledging them and so having to act as though you approve of them that comes in handy for a mother."

Miller's Valley is a definition of home and family. Is home a place, a feeling, a person, a time or a combination of all these things? Is family the one you are born with or the one where you find love? What indeed defines love? The themes of love and family and its many manifestations permeate this book through the different characters.

Fundamentally, this book is a story of Mary Margaret "Mimi" Miller, a young woman who is surrounded by the cares of her family and whose dreams go beyond the reaches of her family. It is a story of a young woman who makes difficult choices to forge her path. It is the story of a young woman who is watching her community dismantle in front of her eyes. It is these struggles that make Mimi Miller an engaging character and one I find myself caring about and cheering on.

Miriam and Bud Miller are Mimi's parents. Miriam is a nurse. Bud can fix anything. Together, they also run their Miller's Valley farm. Their relationship is not explored in depth in the book, but reflections of a marriage that has lasted a long while come through. Arguments and stated and unstated compromises come through. They display love as a verb, as something you do, not something that just is.

Mimi's Aunt Ruth, who lives in a separate house, but on the Miller property is a recluse who does not leave her home. Her back story emerges at the very end, but seems unnecessary.  It has to do with family and with a love lost. However, sometimes, family secrets are best left secret without an offered solution. Her life drowns in her sorrows of love lost.

Young Tommy, Mimi's brother, is a rebel, seemingly good at heart but in and out of trouble. He is always on the periphery of Mimi's life, particularly after his return from a tour of duty in Vietnam. The impact of the war sends his life in a downward direction. Those who turn away and those who continue to love him again show love and family persevering though his actions again and again drive a wedge in that love.

LaRhonda, Mimi's friend, shows a direct comparison to Mimi's own life. LaRhonda is an indulged only child while Mimi works for everything she has. LaRhonda's goal is marriage and children; Mimi's goals lie elsewhere. Their friendship ebbs and flows as their own choices lead them in different directions. Although a seemingly minor character in the book, LaRhonda seems to hold up a mirror to Mimi's life.

Donald is also Mimi's friend, perhaps her best friend for the limited time they are given together. Donald's family is his grandparents who offer love and stability and his mother who takes off with him or "dumps that poor boy on his grandparents whenever she cares to." Though he does his mother's bidding, it is clear through the book where his heart lies. Distance and time do not change his love.

Underlying all the personal stories is the story of Miller's Valley itself, a valley that has been home to the Millers for generations. Slowly, this home is dying, and people are being driven out because of a dam and because of flooding. People in the Valley love their home, but other forces prevail. They forgo that love and leave.

In this way, this book reminds me of Swift River by R C Binstock. Both are about a community being willfully destroyed to make way for progress. Both are about a small, relatively self-contained community. Both are told through the eyes of a young woman as she grows up in this environment. Both are about family, connections, and ties to the land. Miller's Valley the place is home, but is home really a place?

Together from all these pieces, Anna Quindlen creates a picture of Miller's Valley and of ordinary people - that I as the reader care about - living life with all the struggle and love it has to offer.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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