During the Depression the United States built many dams, mostly in the right places. However some were either not large enough or found later to be destroying the natural balance of nature.
“Miller’s Valley” by Anna Quindlen tells the fictional story of a small town in Pennsylvania, known as Miller’s Valley because of the history and power of four generations of Mimi Miller’s family.
The dam in the 1960s is causing the valley to soak up more rain than it should. The government wants to tear down the dam and thus flood all of the farms and houses in the valley – something that in fact did happen elsewhere. Lake Lanier in Georgia is a manmade lake that covers entire towns, many bridges and old country roads and even an old speedway.
Mimi grows up on her parents’ farm, the youngest of three children.
Ed, the smart one, is 10 years older than Mimi. He left for college when Mimi was only 8, so she thinks of him as a visiting ghost.
Very present, though, are Tommy, the next older brother, and her parents. Tommy may not get very good grades, but he charms everyone.
At night Mimi can lie in bed listening to her parents in the kitchen downstairs through the heating ducts. She loves hearing them talk about all the things people do in a small town.
When she is 11, a government inspector comes to the home. The family has heard rumors, but they are still stunned when the inspector suggests buying them out so the government can flood their land. Mimi’s father is adamant that they are not selling. Her mother is more realistic.
This is the heartland of America in the 1960s, where and when many families undergo similar changes.
Mimi’s family contemplates their land’s being flooded, forming a lake with houses and trees still standing beneath it. The government, though, wishes to move the graveyard.
The family’s attachment to the town is strong. Mimi says, “No one ever leaves the town where they grew up, even if they go.”
This story is told from Mimi’s point of view – from the age of 10 when the story begins and ends when she is in her 60s – spanning decades of quietly observing family secrets, the dangers of gossip, marriage flaws, and friendship.
“Miller’s Valley” is one of those novels that can be read in one sitting, to the regret of the reader when the story is over. Ms. Quindlen is a master storyteller, and this study of family, of loss, memory, and identity creates for the reader a new interpretation of home.