Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen is as much a novel about place as it is about characters. Set in the turbulent 1960s but focused on a quiet family, Miller’s Valley is mediation on what it means to resist change, to adapt to it, and ultimately, be swept away by it.
The Miller family has lived in their valley for generations. On the Miller farm lives the next generation of the family: Mimi, her two brothers, her parents, and her nearly shut-in aunt Ruth. Mimi’s older brother Eddie is an intellectual and is headed out of the valley to pursue higher academics. Tommy, Mimi’s younger brother, has a self-destructive streak and may not make it out of the service. Mimi herself has academic talent, but it unsure whether or not she will be able to break away from home.
Added to the family dynamics are the problems in the valley itself. Prone to flooding and next to a river, the valley has caught the attention of the government. The government would like to buy out all of the residents of the valley and allow it to flood by releasing a dam. Residents don’t think the dam does much good since there is frequent minor flooding, but they are not ready to leave their homes either. Where else would they go, having lived on the land for generations?
Miller’s Valley is very much an examination of change—both that which we try to make happen and that which is imposed upon us by outside forces. It is inevitable that the family at the center of Miller’s Valley had to accept both types of change. This is not a plot driven novel and I cannot say that much happens, but the characters in the novel do grow and adapt to their new circumstances.
Each character in the Miller family is finely drawn and someone that I enjoyed reading about: from the hardworking father, to the agoraphobic aunt, to the troubled brother Tommy. It felt very much like reading about ordinary people trying to make their way in the world. I was not a huge fan of the ending since it skipped forward in time and told me about the characters many years in the future with no real sense of connection to the heart of the story.
Miller’s Valley is a quiet but thoughtful story. In the end, it shows just how much we change and become people other than who we started out to be.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina