Saturday, April 23, 2016

Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen

Mary Margaret Miller. Mimi. Meem. Even Babe. Whatever name she goes by, Mary Margaret is one of the most memorable narrators I've met in a long time. She's matter-of-fact as she tells the bittersweet story of the home she loved her entire life in Anna Quindlen's latest novel,  Miller's Valley.

Mimi's mother became important when she married a Miller, and moved to his farm in Miller's Valley. And, she was a nurse, a self-assured woman. So, everyone in town waited for Miriam to speak up, to fight for Miller's Valley when the government announced their plan to resettle everyone and drown the town. But, Miriam saw change coming long before everyone, even her daughter. And, Mary Margaret never did understand her mother and why her mother seemed so ready to let everything disappear.

Mimi, a quiet girl, watches her parents as her father farms and works as a fix-it man for the entire community. Her mother is a nurse, working long shifts at the hospital. Mimi's Aunt Ruth lives in a small house on the back of the family farm, and refuses to leave the house, even when the valley floods. Mimi's brothers are much older. Ed is already gone, in college, and then working as an engineer. Tommy. Tommy, the light of his mother's eyes, is idolized in town, but once he enlists during Vietnam, he'll never be the same. And, of course, there's Miller's Valley, the town Mimi loves, threatened for years by floods, and by government plans to flood the town.

The line I see quoted from this book is "But no one ever leaves the town where they grew up, not really, even if they go." It's a line that summarizes the book better than any book review does. How do you sum up a book that covers years in a family and a community? This is Mary Margaret's story to tell, and she tells is better than any reviewer. She's reflective, serious as she tells the story of her life and her family's lives. It's an unpretentious story that tells the truth, the good and the bad. But, it's told from Mimi's viewpoint, and she doesn't always understand her parents or her brother, Tommy. They're real people, leading ordinary lives, sometimes pleasant, sometimes painful.

As Mary Margaret looks back at Miller's Valley, back at the people she loved, she's matter-of-fact, telling the story as it was, from her standpoint. It's a bittersweet story. But, Mary Margaret Miller, with her candid conversation about the town and her family, brings them to life in Anna Quindlen's quietly powerful, unforgettable, Miller's Valley.

Anna Quindlen's website is

Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen. Random House. 2016. ISBN 9780812996081 (hardcover), 259p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Joyce Delaney said...

I couldn't agree more with your review. Once I began reading it, I just kept going to the end, because I didn't want to break the spell.

TFJ said...

Just picked this up from the library. Looking forward to reading it, even more so after this review. Thanks, Lesa.


Theresa de Valence said...

What a wonderful review, Lesa. Just in case I didn't win, I ran out and got on the library hold list. I'm #15! So, I'm giving up an opportunity to win . . .

Lesa said...

Terrible book to try to review, though, Joyce. Wonderful, wonderful book, wasn't it? Yes, the spell. I, too, went straight through it.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, TFJ. I'm not always a fan of Quindlen's novels, but I loved this one.

Lesa said...

That's good, Theresa, because I'm not giving away my copy of this book. It's a keeper!