Review: Marla Cantrell
The nine acres where I grew up belonged to my parents, and before them to my grandmother who gave that plot of land to my family. My grandmother lived on a couple of acres that abutted ours. When I think of her, she is always in her house or walking the land where her second husband planted a pear orchard that grew wild after he died. When I think of home, it is always on that land where almost everything that made me who I am happened.
Our family no longer owns the property. Someone sells RVs where my house used to be, and there’s a veterans’ club where my grandmother lived. All these facts about my life are what drew me to Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen, a book about what it means to lose the place you call home.
The book is set in Pennsylvania on a farm that has been in the Miller family for almost 200 years. It is the 1960s, and whip-smart Mimi Miller is eleven. She loves her father who’s a farmer. She has a complicated relationship with her mother who’s a nurse. And she has two brothers, one who’s moved away and another who’s the life of the party.
Aunt Ruth lives in a house beside Mimi’s. She is a fragile woman who suffers from agoraphobia, so it’s up to Mimi’s mother to make sure she’s OK. Miller’s Valley really is Ruth’s whole world; she can’t leave her own house because of the panic that drives her life. Always, there is tension between Mimi’s mother and aunt, but the reason for their trouble is not revealed until the end of the book when Aunt Ruth’s haunting secret is uncovered.
When the book opens, a government agent is making the rounds, letting residents know he’s ready to make a deal to buy their property. There’s a plan to turn the land into a reservoir. If that happens, 6,400 acres will be flooded, families will be relocated, and the Miller’s farm will no longer exist. And while Mimi’s father fights the plan, Mimi’s mother is all for it. Both have valid reasons for the way they feel, but their opinions cause friction in their marriage.
As the story progresses, more and more water rises across the valley. A flood comes, taking lives with it, and the future of the valley seems set in stone. Mimi feels the pending loss like a knife in the chest. Who will she be outside this valley? How will her father, who loves the land like a partner, survive outside his home?
The story follows Mimi as the plan to take Miller’s Valley unfolds. She falls in love with the wrong boy. The Vietnam War comes along and takes her carefree brother. When he returns, he is damaged beyond repair. She researches what’s really going on in the valley, and uncovers secrets about the government’s fight to take this land away.
Miller’s Valley is a beautiful book about what home means, what family means, and how our lives are a result not just of the people who raised us, but of the land where we grew up.