I love Anna Quindlen. I’ve read all of her fiction and followed her Newsweek columns for years. She has an absolute gift for translating the triumphs and heartbreaks of everyday Americans into gentle prose. I was mesmerized by Miller’s Valley, and despite its sad story, it felt like a warm blanket.
This is Mimi Miller’s story, as she comes of age in the 60s and 70s in Miller’s Valley, a dying farm community in Pennsylvania. The government, promising progress and recreation, pushes the residents to sell or move, so they can flood the town by diverting the river. Mimi’s farm has been in her family for generations, and her father, Bud, still raises beef cattle, though mostly as a mark of pride. Miriam, Mimi’s mother, is a nurse, unyielding and quiet, but gently pushing her youngest to a different kind of life, outside of their doomed town. Oldest brother Ed has already moved on, and Tommy, the middle child, seems unlikely to take over the farm or to find a new path.
I felt like the reveals and foreshadowing made for beautiful pacing in this simple story. These are quiet and strong people; there are no fireworks or dramatic outbursts. But Quindlen manages to show the Miller’s family bonds in the simplest acts.
“‘Always on time, always polite, always good service,’ said [my boss] to my mother with his hand on one of my shoulders.
… ‘I should hope so,’ said my mother as though those were the minimum requirements, which in her mind was true.”
At the heart, I think this is a mother/daughter story, and a story of progress of a different nature than was proposed by the government. I hung on every word.
Minor quibble: No one in Pennsylvania calls Penn State “State”.