Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen
Anna Quindlen’s new novel is a life remembered by Mary Margaret (Mimi) Miller, who grew up on a small farm in Miller’s Valley. Her life, its troubles and joys, and the people in her life are unsparingly recounted in Quindlen’s finely wrought prose.
If I say that “nothing much” happens in the story, that’s both true and misleading. Mimi’s life is no more or less ordinary than anyone’s, and most of the incidents are fairly minor in the big picture. On the other hand, she lived through many ups and downs, and both lived and witnessed a lot of bad times, as well as a few good times.
There are a few “mysteries” that cannot be resolved, not least because she learns to not tell everything she knows or suspects. In a small town everyone knows everything, but that doesn’t mean everyone tells everything.
But, even with all the trouble, the story is a pretty happy, and comes out OK.
Quindlen does a nice job of portraying the sixties and seventies—as remembered by the young of that period—without sappy sentimentality or ahistorical invention. Things were neither a good nor as bad as they seemed at the time, and Mimi looking back can see that.
Is there a deep point or message in this story? I’m not sure. I certainly found myself thinking about family, and the bone-headed, stubbornly stupid things we have done and continue to do to our “loved ones”. It wasn’t difficult to summon up some regrets from my own past.
At the same time, the story argues for the importance of roots and home, however imperfect. Mimi certainly is happy to be the last Miller of Miller’s Valley, with all that implies. It means something to her, and to the people she has touched and loved. It’s a good story.
Quindlen’s writing is smooth and, well, nice to read. She worked hard on the narration to give it the form of a recollection, with all the imperfections you would expect. The story unfolds in a complex, only partly linear path through her life. There are many digressions and leaps across time that could be distracting or annoying, but Quindlen makes them work somehow. (Note to self: examine how she does this so well.)
Overall, a nicely written story worth reading.
- Anna Quindlen, Miller’s Valley, New York, Random House, 2016.
Sunday Book Reviews