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Miller's Valley


Miller's Valley

Mimi Miller is an observant, thoughtful girl, the youngest child in her family. When the sump pump in the basement of their farmhouse is quiet, she can hear her mother and father in the kitchen talking and sometimes arguing about their son, Tommy, and even the fate of the farm on which they reside. Her family has lived on this wet property for generations, and while they raise cattle and grow corn, Mimi is aware that her mother’s salary as a nurse and her father’s side job as a handyman keep them afloat.

"MILLER’S VALLEY is refreshingly old-fashioned, linear and fully realized. Mimi is a wonderful vehicle for Quindlen’s knack for astute observations."

That phrase has a special resonance in Miller’s Valley, which floods regularly. It’s the 1970s, and the government has built a dam one valley over. But every couple of years, all but the most stubborn inhabitants are ferried to a church to wait out the high water. Still, Mimi’s father and her friend Donald’s grandparents vow never to give in to the government agent Winston Bally, who tries to convince them to sell out so that Miller’s Valley can be intentionally flooded to become a recreation area. (Mimi’s mother wouldn’t mind having wall-to-wall carpeting in a new house.) Mimi can’t imagine living anywhere but the farm, which Anna Quindlen, through Mimi, describes so precisely that we can’t help but sympathize. “It was always warmer in the barn than it was outside because of all the cows crowding together, breathing and snorting and farting, making a fug that hung in the place like cigarette smoke over the poker game my father used to have once a month in the dining room, before my mother told him he needed to stop smoking and move the game to the VFW.” In prose like that, Mimi’s family is rooted and tethered to this place.

Mimi’s eldest brother, Eddie, has already escaped Miller’s Valley, going to college and moving away. Her mother is determined that she create the same opportunity for herself. Their middle brother, Tommy, is more of a challenge, getting by on his good looks and charm. That gets more difficult when he (barely) graduates from high school. “A lot of what Tommy got into seemed like a story someone was telling, except that it was true.” He enlists in Vietnam and returns a changed person, but not for the better. Meanwhile, Mimi studies hard and discovers an affinity for science, biology in particular. Late in high school, she falls hard for a hardworking, fast-talking guy named Steven and learns a few more things about biology --- the hard way.

MILLER’S VALLEY is refreshingly old-fashioned, linear and fully realized. Mimi is a wonderful vehicle for Quindlen’s knack for astute observations. “When I was a kid it seemed like God’s will was always that bad things happened, mostly to nice people. When Eddie got his scholarship, when LaRhonda’s father started to make a lot of money, nobody ever said that was God’s will.” The years roll by and some people change, or resign themselves to change. Other’s don’t. And, of course, “progress” can’t be stopped.

In the epilogue, Mimi, now in her 60s, reflects back on her loves, losses, career and childhood home, now long under water. “But no one ever leaves the town where they grew up, not really, even if they go.” Readers who share that affinity for their childhood home will especially appreciate this emotionally powerful tale of family and place.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on April 13, 2016

Miller's Valley
by Anna Quindlen

  • Publication Date: June 6, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0812985907
  • ISBN-13: 9780812985900