Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

In my previous ‘before-children’ life, I worked in water management. The nineties were an interesting time in Victoria in terms of water resources – we shifted from simply river management to whole-of-catchment management; the importance of environmental flows were recognised; and paying for water that was collected on private property (in farm dams) was established. The changes don’t seem like much when I list them here but they took years to implement and had major implications for rural communities, legislation, and the way natural resources were managed.

What does this have to do with Anna Quindlen’s novel, Miller’s Valley?

Everything and nothing.

Miller’s Valley is the story of the Miller family. After generations of living in the Valley, the family’s home is threatened by government plans to create a dam. The story is told from the perspective of Mimi, whose observations of her family and community members change and mature as events unfold.

Quindlen explores themes of family, memory and what constitutes a home – there’s nothing heavy-handed or obvious or particularly new in the plot however the themes are expertly integrated, creating a rich picture of what drives the Miller family, what they value and where their loyalties lie.

It’s so easy to be wrong about the things you’re close to. I know that now. I learned that then.

What I enjoyed most about this book was how water was used to drive the narrative. The presence or absence of water can bring sudden and urgent changes, but it can also brings gradual changes – the slow leak, the creep of mildew, the shifting course of a stream. As water changes in Miller’s Valley, so to do the fortunes of the family – sudden events (a death, an arrest, an abortion) are interwoven with the gradual (an aunt becomes a recluse, Mimi’s growing awareness of her academic abilities, a brother losing his way). All the while, government officials push forward with plans to flood the Valley and the family’s sump pump chugs away, keeping the slow creep of water at bay – a battle between the past and the future.

3/5 A quiet, thoughtful novel with a memorable setting.

I received my copy of Miller’s Valley from the publisher, Random House, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

“…my mother loved peanut brittle more than anything on earth.”

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