Reviewed by Adèle Geras
Anna Quindlen is an American writer who ought to be much better known in this country. Her last novel, Still Life With Breadcrumbs (reviewed here), is very good indeed and I recommend that too, while I’m at it, so to speak.
I read this book very recently and it impressed me hugely, moved me and made me realise how very restful it is to read a book that is a) beautifully written b) quite devoid of stylistic tricks or special effects c) quite small and limited in its scale while encompassing so many emotions and d) so much in tune with the normal run of the daily life of ordinary people.
We exist in families. We have houses. Those houses are in communities, large and small. We live in the city or the country or a small town, but wherever we come from, what we remember of the place where we were children is in our DNA. For me, for example. Jerusalem is imprinted in my mind like nowhere else, even though I stopped living there when I was five.
The eponymous Miller’s Valley is home to the Miller family, which has been there for generations. Now, it’s about to be flooded in a government plan to develop the area. The inhabitants will be compensated and moved to higher ground. Natural floods do occur in Miller’s Valley, and our narrator, Mimi, has lived through quite devastating ones.
She tells us about her life. Her parents, her brothers, (one who returned from Vietnam a changed person) her best friend, LaRhonda, her aunt Ruth, her mother’s sister, who lives in a house on the Miller property and is severely agoraphobic. We meet her teacher. We learn to find our way round the streets of the town. We follow Mimi from childhood, through her teenage years and on to college and a career. Her love life, her disappointments, her triumphs: Quindlen brings them so vividly to life that you feel you are yourself, as a reader, inhabiting the town, sharing in its doings and privileged to be the confidante of such a careful, kind and sympathetic narrator. I defy anyone not to fall in love with Mimi. At the end of the book the valley is indeed under water and we knew this was going to happen from the first page, but Quindlen has put in a last-minute surprise that leaves the reader stunned and looking back at everything they’ve learned so far with entirely different eyes.
This is a beautiful novel and if it’s not on the Bailey’s Prize shortlist next year, I will be very disappointed. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
Adèle Geras is the author of numerous successful novels for adults and children. She blogs at The History Girls, a joint blog written by authors of historical fiction and fantasy history for Junior (middle Grade), YA and adult readers.
Anna Quindlen, Millers Valley (Simon & Schuster, 2016). 978-1471158773, 272pp., hardback.
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