Book Review: Anna Quindlen's 'Miller's Valley'

May 16, 2016

Current State book reviewer Scott Southard returns with a tale of time, family and fate. It all comes together in the novel “Miller’s Valley” by Anna Quindlen.


At the heart of "Miller’s Valley" is Mimi Miller, who is the story’s narrator. We meet her when she is young and high-spirited. She is smart, creative and has a knack for saying things that might get her in trouble. This is her world and she is seen as royalty by the community. The valley is known as Miller’s Valley because of the history and power of her family’s farm. While the farm is not as successful now as it was for her ancestors, everyone still remembers. Some are bitter about their influence, others are accepting.

We watch Mimi age, starting at 10 and ending when she is in her 60's. There are friendships that come and go, and good relationships and, of course, bad ones as well. We cheer the good decisions she makes in her life and squirm over some of the more tragic ones. The story begins in the 1960's, and time is starting to run out for the valley and its inhabitants. It floods often and the government wants to purchase all of the land so they can build a dam, erasing the only world that Mimi and her family have ever known. The residents fight against it, and try to go on living as if time wasn’t against them and everything they hold dear.

One of the brilliant aspects of Quindlen’s novel is the characters surrounding Mimi. Each character has a distinct voice and style and jump right off the page. From her eccentric Aunt Ruth who refuses to leave her small home to her brother Tommy, a charismatic soul that changes after returning from the Vietnam War, each character is full of life. After finishing this book my thoughts keep returning to Mimi’s mother. She is a nurse and very much the realist in the family. She is the rock for all of the Millers and does her best to hold everything together. We rarely see her breakdown, but when she does it is powerful.

When "Miller’s Valley" comes to an end, we share the ending with the author and her character Mimi, since it feels so emotional, not simply the turning of a page. It is masterful to watch the story slip away just like that sand in the hourglass, one grain at a time. In a way, Quindlen truly gives time its due. If only our own endings could be told so brilliantly.

Scott Southard is the author of the novels “Permanent Spring Showers” and “A Jane Austen Daydream.” You can follow his writing via his blog, “The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard,” at sdsouthard.com.