Featured Reviews, Volume 9

Anna Quindlen – Miller’s Valley [Review]

[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”0812996089″ locale=”US” src=”https://englewoodreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/51wvFN1WeRL-1.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”224″]Struggling for Identity,
Survival and Love

 
A Review of 
 

Miller’s Valley: A Novel
Anna Quindlen

Hardback: Random House, 2016
Buy now: [ [easyazon_link identifier=”0812996089″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Amazon[/easyazon_link] ]  [easyazon_link identifier=”B017QLSIGS” locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Kindle[/easyazon_link]  ]
 
Reviewed by Amy Neftzger
 
 
Anna Quindlen’s latest novel takes place in a time of cultural change in America, and for the protagonist the change is happening on multiple levels. Miller’s Valley is about a young girl growing into womanhood during the Vietnam war era and how the turmoil in her small town impacts her search for identity. Mimi Miller is one of the Millers from whom the town gets its name, but the tiny rural community may soon be erased. The small town setting and time period is perfect for a story about the struggle for identity, survival and love.

One of the main plot lines centers around a predatory government employee who comes to town and begins convincing the residents to sell their land. Because there’s an issue with the land flooding more often, many of the residents begin packing up and moving on while others aren’t sure that the floods are an act of nature and decide to stay and fight to keep their homes.

While the government is attempting to move the residents out of the valley, Mimi is growing up and trying to figure out who she is and what she wants from life, while at the same time bearing the responsibility for her parents, since her brother came home from the war less disciplined and more reckless than when he left. Mimi’s winsome brother had always gotten by on his charming disposition, but he begins to struggle when he returns from the war and can’t (or won’t) find steady employment and settle down.

The protagonist has her own struggles during these turbulent times. Although she’s an accomplished student, she chooses to forgo the scholarship offered to the state university and instead stays at home to help care for her father after his stroke. This aspect of the story reminded me of the sacrifice made by one of literature’s beloved heroes Anne of Green Gables, when she gives up the opportunity to go to the university and take a local teaching position so that she can be near her Aunt Marilla because Marilla’s eyesight is failing. In Miller’s Valley, Mimi is forced to choose between her responsibility to her parents and her desires for herself, while she longs to get away from Miller’s Valley in order to explore the world and find herself.

Once her father is no longer able to speak from the stroke, Mimi and her mother continue to honor his wish of keeping the farm running, despite other demands on their time. One of these demands is Mimi’s agoraphobic aunt, who also lives on their land. The aunt has refused to leave her house for as long as Mimi can remember. Mimi’s mother has cared for the aunt by doing her shopping and cooking a meal for her once a day, but she refuses to visit her sister and sends the plate of food to the aunt’s house via one of the other family members. This plot line explores the complexity of relationships and the ways that love can manifest itself in ordinary tasks.

Miller’s Valley addresses a number of issues and provides a glimpse at a time of life when women didn’t quite have the same opportunities that we do today. This was a period of American history where women were just beginning to look at options outside of marriage as a goal in life, and Quindlen eloquently captures this aspect of change in our culture, as well as the reactions of those who didn’t see a need for that change. Mimi watches her friends leave for college and quit as soon as they land a husband, whether it was the one they really wanted or not. Having grown up during this same period of time, I recognized myself and my friends in these characters, and I’m reminded of how truly progressive my mother was in having a career outside the home after her children were born. Younger readers may gain insight into the lives of their parents or grandparents through this book, as it was a very different time. Individuals who grew up during this period didn’t have DVDs, CDs, computers, or video games. They didn’t have any cellphones, let alone smartphones and there was no 24 hour news network. Technology has changed the way that we interact with one another, and this story takes place just before these developments took place. The characters in this book are more dependent on one another for local news and support.

Overall, Miller’s Valley is a study of the human condition during a specific period of American history. Everyone is broken in some way in the story, and there are times when some are broken for the better while others are broken for the worse. We also see that while family relationships can be healing for us, these can also be some of the most toxic relationships, because the people nearest to us are the ones have access to the parts of ourselves that are most vulnerable. In the end, the lesson that Mimi learns is how to define “home” outside of a physical dwelling, and that no matter how much we love someone, we can’t save anyone who doesn’t want to be saved. We just keep loving them, because we couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t.
 



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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com


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