Sometimes a novel comes along that you just know will resonate with you for years. “Miller’s Valley” is just such a novel. A story with characters, descriptions, and emotions, so REAL that after reading it you feel as though you actually knew the people and that they held a piece of your heart.
The protagonist /narrator of this novel is Mary Margaret Miller (Mimi) and we meet her when she is just a girl living on her family’s farm in Miller’s Valley, in rural Pennsylvania.
Mimi lives with her father, Bud, a hard-working cattle farmer who also works as the community ‘fix-it’ man. Her mother, Miriam, works night shifts as a nurse and it is she who actually wears the pants in the family. She has earned the respect and esteem of her fellow residents in Miller’s Valley. She is a strong-willed, stoic woman of few words, who loves her three children dearly.
Mimi has two older brothers. Eddie, whom she barely knows as he is ten years her senior and not living at home. Tommy, a charming rake/ne’er do well who is the apple of both his mother’s and his sister’s eye.
Of her brothers Mimi says, “One looked like a cop and the other like a criminal”.
Mimi’s mother’s younger sister, Ruth lives in a tiny house in their back yard. Ruth is an agoraphobic. It falls to Mimi most of the time to deliver meals to her Aunt Ruth whom her mother no longer has patience for. Ruth doesn’t leave the house even when it floods. She sits up in the attic amongst the suitcases she keeps, but never uses…
The farm has been in the family for over two centuries. Ever since she can remember Mimi has lived listening to the sound of a sump-pump going. Their farm is on the lowest land in Miller’s Valley and when the rains come – flooding occurs. The government wants to buy out the residents of the valley and turn the land into a reservoir by damming the river.
Set mostly during the 1960s the majority of the novel takes place during Mimi’s adolescence with all the trials, temptations and confusion that adolescence entails. It depicts with scathing accuracy both the positive and the negative aspects of living and working in a small town. Her life and the lives of her family are forever changed when Tommy enlists in the marines and is eventually sent to Vietnam.
Mimi says: “No one ever leaves the town where they grew up, even if they go.”
It is obvious that Mimi is the brightest child of the three Miller children. A straight A student, she balances her studies with helping her father on the farm, and later, with waiting tables at the local diner.
Of memory Mimi says: “It’s strange little moments that live inside you and keep peeking out the windows that open suddenly in your mind.”
This novel revolves around the Miller family. In true ‘family saga’ form it reveals the joy and heartache inherent in every family. The pride, shame, dreams, doubts, losses, and secrets along with the illnesses, births, and deaths. Everything is included in prose that will pull at your heartstrings. Spanning a time period of over half a century, “Miller’s Valley” and its residents will remain in your memory long after the final page is turned.
ANNA QUINDLEN is a novelist and journalist whose work has appeared on fiction, nonfiction, and self-help bestseller lists. She is the author of eight novels: Object Lessons, One True Thing, Black and Blue, Blessings, Rise and Shine, Every Last One, Still Life with Bread Crumbs, and Miller’s Valley. Her memoir Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, published in 2012, was a number one New York Times bestseller. Her book A Short Guide to a Happy Life has sold more than a million copies. While a columnist at The New York Times she won the Pulitzer Prize and published two collections, Living Out Loud and Thinking Out Loud. Her Newsweek columns were collected in Loud and Clear.