Sunday, June 17, 2012

"For Love," by Sue Miller

I have mentioned, and I know others have also had the experience of, forgetting if I have read a certain book. Even though I have kept a list of what I have read since I was 10 years old (see my post of 1/24/10), that list is in three notebooks (so far!) rather than computerized (OK, it was a while ago that I started the list!) and I don’t have the time now (maybe I will someday...) to go back and enter all the 5200-plus titles and authors into an online database. So it isn’t easy to check if I have already read a specific book, especially for books I may have read 20 or 30 or more years ago. I have read most if not all of Sue Miller’s novels, so when I recently picked up her book “For Love” (HarperPerennial, 1993) (as in “what I did for love”), I thought I had probably already read it, but it didn’t look familiar at all. And even when I read it, at which time a formerly-read book usually starts to sound familiar, it still didn’t ring a bell. It is possible that I had never read it before; it is also quite possible that I did read it 19 or so years ago and forgot it. Disconcerting but true. As for the novel itself: This is the story of Lottie, her brother Cam, and her childhood friend Elizabeth, who is also Cam’s lifelong object of love and desire. Middle-aged now, they reunite by happenstance in Cambridge, Massachusetts one summer, in and between their respective parents’ houses on their childhood street. Much drama ensues, including a tragic event. This novel focuses on the psychological, and on the way our childhoods continue to influence us into middle age and beyond. It also illustrates the longterm effects of social class; Lottie continues to resent the way Elizabeth, who lived in a much nicer house and whose parents were much wealthier, acted superior to Lottie during their teenage years. Although Lottie is a fairly successful writer now, and although Elizabeth is much friendlier now, Lottie is still wary of her and her heedless sense of entitlement. Although the novel is quite intense psychologically, it drags a bit at times. Still, overall this is a novel worth reading. Some critics have said that because Miller’s work is quite accessible (and I would add: because she writes about “women’s subjects”), she has been underestimated as a serious literary author; I think this assessment is correct.

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