Published by Random House
Publication date: April 5th 2016
Genres: Coming-of-age, Fiction, Literary
Miller’s Valley is both the title and location of Anna Quindlen’s new novel. It is a tiny community where Mimi Miller’s family has owned and farmed their land for hundreds of years. Now it’s under threat because the government has decided to use a dam they put in decades ago to divert the river, flooding the town and turning it into a reservoir and a source of hydroelectricity. This is the town’s story and while it occupies much of Mimi’s childhood, Quindlen makes it only an undercurrent in the Millers’ lives. The full force of her prose is focused in Mimi’s mother, Marion, a local nurse; her aunt Ruth, who lives on their property in a house of her own; her brother Tommy, the charmer who gets away with everything until he can’t, and eleven-year-old Mimi herself.
Despite being the Millers in Miller’s Valley, Mimi’s family leads a simple life deep at the center of the valley’s lowest point on their cattle farm, where the biggest excitement is when the rains cause the land to flood and they have to be evacuated from their house. All except Aunt Ruth, who Quindlen executes in an eccentric splendor that is both sad and maddening. Ruth never ever leaves her house nor does she cook or do laundry so it is her sister, Mimi’s mother, and the family who do everything for her. Mimi watches it all with the quietude of a smart girl who while she doesn’t fully understand the adult dynamics knows she doesn’t fit in and will leave when she can.
There’s a particular kind of quiet on a farm in the morning, which isn’t really morning the way other people think of it…It’s a place where it’s just as easy to feel lost as it is to feel contented. I felt lost most of the time now, but I never said so, even to myself: in that same way I knew it was odd for a grown woman not to leave her own home, I knew it was odd for a teenage girl to feel like there was a big rattly empty space between her stomach and her heart.
This is the wonder of reading Quindlen—she writes of women and for women in a way that is difficult to explain. Women who start as girls and come of age on the page, women who farm, are mothers, sisters, become doctors, never leave the house, lose children, all in their extraordinary complexity are captured not just in the flesh, but down to the marrow. They are known to us. With prose that welcomes without fancy words or flourishes every page envelops you further into their lives. In Miller’s Valley, she echoes the plain spoken, stoic natures that surround Mimi, allowing her story to unfold gently with its own pace and rhythms.
There are authors who craft masterpieces from far flung locations, grand sparkly stories that span generations, and epic characters unlike any we’ve ever known, but Quindlen is one of the few who can achieve connection using the simplest ingredients and lives that, on the surface, seem no more marked or transcendent than our own. This rare feeling of the heart contracting in recognition with what lies on the page is a gift often sought but not often found. Ultimately, Miller’s Valley may be a town deemed not worth saving, but Miller’s Valley is a novel that lives and breathes even after the last page.