Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen
Miller’s Valley is a town in farm country. A place where the same families have farmed the same land for generations. A place about to be changed forevermore when a new dam will flood the fields – and the farms and the houses. The people will move. If the dam is built. And we know, regardless of the protests, it will be.
The novel Miller’s Valley by renowned American author Anna Quindlen chronicles the story of Miller’s Valley. Narrated by Mimi Miller, she takes us from the 1960s to the present time. Remember baby doll pajamas? Embarrassing really to remember those flouncy little outfits, a little puffy blouse on top and bloomers underneath – all the girls in 1960 had a pair, as does Mimi. This novel is a perfect period piece, describingthe years when the baby boomers were growing up – as the middle class emerged and young American boys born just after the Second World War are sent off to be slaughtered in Vietnam.
Mimi’s family is at once much like every one other – and unique, as every family is. Her father is a farmer, following long generations of ancestors to work the same land. Her mother is a nurse. There are two brothers – the good one and the bad one – we know which one they all loved the best.
Miller’s Valley is a small town complete with all the things that are the best and worst about a small town. “The good thing about a small town is the same thing that’s a bad thing about a small town, and that’s that everyone knows your business.” It could be here. It means that everyone rallies round when there is tragedy, and there is always someone who knows what your kids are up to.
The science teacher might steer a young student on to a career in medicine – or helplessly witness a promising student make the wrong choice. The local doctor might muse about his career, the babies brought into the world, who return with their own children. This is a time when a teenager who makes a life changing mistake might – or might not – find someone to help. In a fictional small town much as our own, this is a novel that mirrors life.
What elevates Miller’s Valley to something more than the ordinary is the writing – the voice of Mimi Miller, her mother, her father, her brothers, her aunt, the boy friends, the husband – all are pitch perfect. They play out their lives in seamless progression, perfectly portrayed in time and place. We share their worry about the boys who go to Vietnam, the intensity of a heady first love affair with the wrong guy, and the profound grief at the death of a husband and father. We celebrate the good times, and recognize the peace that comes with acceptance. We understand the strength of character that is found when one is forced to make a change, and the ability we all have to carry on and still find joy in life. That is what life is, after all, and Anna Quindlen has captured it perfectly in Miller’s Valley.