By Anna Quindlen
Read Jan 2021
If you are looking for a book with somewhat flawed but engaging characters, realistic drama with no sermons, great but not syrupy language, a story that speaks to both your head and your heart, find a book by Anna Quindlen. She does it again with Miller’s Valley.
This story is set in the 1970’s in a rural valley near a dam. The feds want to extend the man-made lake into the valley but the farmers who live there don’t want to sell. The farmers, like most small farmers then and now, can’t make a living just farming. The narrator’s father is a fix-it man who can fix most anything. The narrator’s mother married into the Miller family which has owned this farm for several generations. She is actually the primary bread-winner via her nursing job at the local hospital. Her sister lives in a small house at the back of the property and hasn’t come out doors for as long as narrator Mimi can remember, event when the valley floods during big rainstorms.
Our narrator is the youngest child of three. Mimi’s oldest brother Ed is fifteen or so years older and is in college studying engineering by the time Mimi’s narration begins. Her popular and good-looking brother Tommy manages to graduate from high school somehow and enlists in the Marines. He returns from Vietnam physically intact but certainly changed in ways that keep him emotionally separated from the family. This is especially difficult for Mimi’s mother as Tommy is clearly her favorite child. Mimi quietly observes her family and seeks to stay under the radar but her academic capabilities are recognized by her teachers who provide her direction to “go beyond”, direction that Mimi’s mother and brother Tommy also echo.
Quinlen does a remarkable job telling the story of this family and giving a sense of the change that is impending for these family farmers and their town and for other small communities as young people leave for college and don’t always return. This reader grew up in the same time period as Mimi and is impressed by the author’s talent in capturing the flavor of the time and at the same time making the story quite timeless. This reader looks forward to reading more of this author’s work.