Sunday, April 24, 2016

"Miller's Valley," by Anna Quindlen

An Anna Quindlen novel is a reliable pleasure. It is a “good” bestseller, a solidly enjoyable and thoughtful piece of fiction. I have enjoyed Quindlen’s work through the years, not only as a novelist but also as a longtime New York Times columnist and as a memoirist. “Miller’s Valley” (Random House, 2016) fits the profile of her other novels. It has a compelling plot, well portrayed characters, an emphasis on relationships, familial and otherwise, and a tendency to focus on women’s lives and issues. All of these make me happy! It is also very accessible. This new novel is the story of a family, the Millers, and a community, the residents of Miller’s Valley, which appears to be in or near Pennsylvania. There is a central issue: whether, and if so, how soon, the government will choose to flood the valley to extend a dam and create a "recreational area." Most of the residents obviously oppose this, as they will lose their longtime farms and homes and their community; the government’s compensation cannot possibly make up for such losses. Slowly, however, some people give in to what seems like the inevitable. The more personal level of the plot revolves around the narrator, Mimi Miller, her parents, her agoraphobic aunt, her two very different brothers (one traditionally successful and one troubled), and their neighbors and friends. The family farm is failing, despite Mimi’s and her father’s best efforts. Meanwhile, Mimi’s mother and her sister are in a lifelong feud, yet Mimi’s family takes care of that sister. Mimi is very bright, and has a promising future, but is torn between her loyalty to her family and the farm, on the one hand, and her higher education and advancement, on the other. Mimi’s best friends are strong characters as well, each in her or his own way. Mimi’s first serious romantic and sexual relationship, with Steven, is well portrayed, as is her longer term on and off relationship with her childhood friend Donald. There are several family secrets that are revealed, or partially revealed, leaving us with tantalizing questions about the past. And there is a satisfying epilogue that tells us what happened with the characters in the years following the main story. This is a true “good read,” in the best sense of the term.
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