Miller’s Valley had all the elements that I usually enjoy in a book: family secrets, coming of age theme, small town drama, etc etc. Despite all the potential, this one came up short for me…
Author: Anna Quindlen
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Filled with insights that are hallmarks of Anna Quindlen’s bestsellers, this extraordinary novel is about a woman coming of age, as she unearths secrets about her family and her town, and surprising truths about herself.
For generations the Millers have lived in Miller’s Valley. Mimi Miller tells about her life with intimacy and honesty. As Mimi eavesdrops on her parents and quietly observes the people around her, she discovers more and more about the toxicity of family secrets, the dangers of gossip, the flaws of marriage, the inequalities of friendship and the risks of passion, loyalty, and love. Home, as Mimi begins to realize, can be “a place where it’s just as easy to feel lost as it is to feel content.”
Miller’s Valley is a masterly study of family, memory, loss, and, ultimately, discovery, of finding true identity and a new vision of home. As Mimi says, “No one ever leaves the town where they grew up, even if they go.” Miller’s Valley reminds us that the place where you grew up can disappear, and the people in it too, but all will live on in your heart forever.
What I think Quindlen does well in Miller’s Valley is her portrayal of small town living. A town where everyone knows everyone, therefore everyone is always in everyone else’s business. The type of town where all the children dream of growing up and moving away for fear of ending up like their parents, but in reality they all grow up and settle down in the very town they dreamt of leaving. I love books set in small towns because not only do you get the drama of small town living, but you also get the comradery of a tight-knit community.
I enjoyed the cast of characters and the family dynamics in Miller’s Valley. You have Bud, the father, a farmer & the local fix-it man. Miriam, the mother, a night shift nurse. Eddie, the older brother, the overachiever. Tommy, another brother, who is basically the family screw up, but also the favorite. Ruth, the agoraphobic Aunt who lives in a cottage on the family farm. Finally we have Mimi (our main character), the one that holds everything together. Each of these characters were flawed in their own ways, but that is what made them feel realistic. There are some wonderful family dynamics between these characters explored in Miller’s Valley: sibling relationships, parent-children relationships, extended family relationships, etc. etc. Like the characters themselves, these relationships were flawed & imperfect, adding to the authentic feeling of the characters.
Now on to the things that did not work well for me in Miller’s Valley…
Unfortunately, this book just didn’t hold my attention like I wanted it to. I felt like I spent a good chunk of the book wondering when something was going to start happening, and by “a good chunk” I am talking about 90% of the book. I was very interested in the “government take over” plot with the government pressuring the inhabitants of Miller’s Valley to sell their properties so that the valley could be flooded and transformed into a dam, but this part of the plot wasn’t well developed. I also felt the characters were not as involved with this part of the plot as they should have been. It was almost like two separate plotlines: Mimi’s life story & the Miller’s Valley plotline, but there wasn’t much connection between the two. Although the ending felt very rushed, it was the best part of the book because this is where the majority of the action happened… the last 10% of the book. I did enjoy how everything panned out in the end, and enjoyed how the author left it a bit open ended, but I just wish the rest of the book was as gripping as the ending. Unfortunately it was just a bit too late for me.
Mimi, our main character, was a struggle to connect with for multiple reasons. For one, I often struggle with “wet blanket” characters, as I just want to shake them out of frustration! Which is how I felt about Mimi. Why did she let EVERYONE take advantage of her? Why does EVERYONE’s problems and responsibilities fall upon her shoulders? Basically Mimi took a passive role in her own life and let everyone else dictate her actions. Another big issue I had with her was that she was lacking emotion throughout the entire book. There were a few emotional events that occur where I felt it was a little odd that it didn’t merit a more emotional reaction from Mimi.
Another big issue I had with the book was the timeline. Generally, I enjoy when an author jumps around from present to past and back again, but I had a hard time following where we were in time while reading Miller’s Valley. I often found myself confused, as the flashbacks were not clearly indicated, thus the jumps in the timeline felt jumbled instead of seamless. It really threw off the flow of the book for me.
To sum up my feelings: As much as I wanted to love this book, it just didn’t work for me because…
• plot line did not hold my attention
• lifeless & frustrating main character
• confusing timeline
ANNA QUINDLEN is a novelist and journalist whose work has appeared on fiction, nonfiction, and self-help bestseller lists. She is the author of eight novels: Object Lessons, One True Thing, Black and Blue, Blessings, Rise and Shine, Every Last One, Still Life with Bread Crumbs, and Miller’s Valley. Her memoir Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, published in 2012, was a number one New York Times bestseller. Her book A Short Guide to a Happy Life has sold more than a million copies. While a columnist at The New York Times she won the Pulitzer Prize and published two collections, Living Out Loud and Thinking Out Loud. Her Newsweek columns were collected in Loud and Clear.
Have you read Miller’s Valley? If so, do you agree or disagree with my thoughts?
Should I give a different Anna Quindlen book a go? If so, which one do you recommend?
Comment below and let me know 🙂