Friday, December 29, 2017

SLOUCHING THROUGH "MILLER'S VALLEY" BY ANNA QUINDLEN!

I purchased the book "Miller's Valley" by Anna Quinlen from the "Buy 2, Get the 3rd free" table, but failed to include the required two which would have gotten me the deal.  I mean seriously--I asked myself: did I really need to drag along two extra books just to make me feel less guilty about not getting a sale price?  The big attraction for me was the top line in the blurb on the back, "In a small town on the verge of a big change, a young woman unearths deep secrets about her family and unexpected truths about herself." and, "hers is the story of every woman who has had to leave home to find herself." I just love books about "deep secrets", "unexpected truths" and the search for identity--they always intrigue me and draw me in.  I just love unknowns.  

However, despite the fact the book is touted as "Mesmerizing" by the The New York Times Book Review, and "Breathtakingly moving" by USA Today, I did not find it so.  It was definitely interesting and fairly engaging, but it was not a page turner.  In fact, for a better part of the first third of the book I will admit to doing one of my quick reads which essentially involved scanning the top and bottom lines of paragraphs to get the gist of the story and then moving on.  If I hadn't done that, I very much doubt that I would ever have gotten through the book.  This is regretable.  

The fact is that I am a big fan of Anna Quindlen and this most recent publication of hers left me rather disappointed.  I have always enjoyed the simple, dynamic, abosrbing style that Anna Quindlen has used in her previous books, notably "One True Thing", "Black and Blue", and "Every Last One."  So I was hoping for a lot better, and got worse.  That said, I certainly felt that this book was worth reading, particularly if you do a bit of a hop, skip, and jump when you have to.  You gotta do, what you gotta do, I always say when it comes to my reading life.  

The story of Miller's Valley is told from the perspective of the main character -- Mary Margaret Miller or "Memes"--as she looks back on her life of 20 years ago.  She talks eloquently about her parents, Miriam a nurse, and Buddy, a repairman, her upstanding brother Eddie who becomes an engineer, and another more rebellious brother, Tommy, who ends up fighting in Vietnam and having his life destroyed.  It is also the story of her Aunt Ruth who lives in a small home behind the family farm house and, for some mysterious reason, refuses to ever leave the house.  

In addition, this book is the story of the family farm that Memes grew up on, one that has been in her family for generations, and it is also about the town  of Miller's Valley that shaped her life experiences and which faces the threat of being flooded to make way for a dam.  

The book describes Memes's struggle throughout her childhood and teenage years to disengage the roots of friendship, family, and community, which are deeply engrained in her psyche, so that she can find her way to success as a medical doctor. Along the way we meet unforgettable characters such as Meme's best friend LaShonda, her brother Tommy, her smarmy, salesman lover Steve, and her warped and damaged Aunt Ruth. Then as the past recedes into memory, we are left intrigued with the question: what is it from the detritus of of Meme's early life that remains and enriches her life in the present, and what parts of it are lost forever.  

As a person who has also known what it is like to grow up in a town with an extraordinary history and personality, I can relate to the push and pull of Meme's relationship with Miller's Valley.  When you grow up in a place like that, the experience digs into your bones, and no matter where you go, it follows you and informs your choices for the rest of your life.  

This book was published by Random House which generally produces very intelligent and intriguing books.  If I were ever published myself, I've always said I'd want to be published by Random House.  

In terms of the physical look of the book, I think Caroline Cunningham did a great job on the book design of "Miller's Valley." I am also impressed by the illustrator, Gustavo Garcia. The figure of the young girl on the cover strongly reminds me of Andrew Wyeth's painting "Christina's World" and adds to that feeling of wistfulness and yearning that permeates the book. In addition, each of the chapters begins with a stylized picture of waves echoing the constant threat the impending dam construction holds to the town.  All of this leads to a book that hits you both verbally, emotionally, and visually--it is a complete package.  

At the end of the book, the publisher includes a series of questions for folks who choose the book for their book clubs. There are no acknowledgements, perhaps because Anna Quindlan has gotten to the point in her life where she no longer needs to thank anybody or explain anything. I did check other books Quindlan has written and they also do not have acknowledgments.  To be honest, I've never seen that situation before.  It is an interesting quirk unique to Ms. Quindlen, and what it says about her, I leave it to my readers to consider.

For those who are interested, Anna Quindlen was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 8, 1952.  She graduated from South Brunswick High School in New Jersey in 1970, and then she went to Barnard College, an all woman's college affiliated with Columbia University, and graduated in 1974. She is married to prominent New Jersey attorney Gerald Krovatin whom she met while in college and has 3 children. She worked as a columnist for The New York Times for many years earning a Pulitzer Prize.  

Eventually, she resigned from her position in 1995 to become a full-time novelist. I have always considered Quindlan's move to fiction writing pretty brave and courageous--to just step down from her success as a journalist, switch gears, and risk all to try out her novel writing chops--that is amazing.  So just good for her giving it a try, and then being successful at it.   

Anna Quindlen is represented by Amanda Urban of ICM who is also the literary agent for such notable and diverse writers as E.B. White, Toni Morrison, E.L. Doctorow, Tobias Wolff, Nadia Murad, Alice Hoffman, and Peter Benchley.  

According to Wiki, "Amanda Urban joined ICM as a literary agent in 1980, serving as Co-Director of the Literary Department in New York for nineteen years, and Managing Director of ICM Books in London for six years. Prior to joining ICM, she was General Manager of New York Magazine and The Village Voice, and Editorial Manager of Esquire Magazine.  Amanda represents both fiction and non-fiction titles for many world-renowned authors and prize-winning journalists, ranging from literary novels to memoirs, biographies, and books on current affairs."  

Bottom line, though, out of all of this, if you are a Anna Quindlen afficionado, you'll want to read "Miller's Valley" just so you are on top of her entire oeuvre, but if you are not, I'd give this book a pass. 

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