I didn’t much like Sue Miller’s first novel, The Good Mother. “But what did she EXPECT would happen?” I kept asking myself. “What was she thinking?” As a result, I haven’t read any of Miller’s subsequent novels.
But Ron Charles’s review of Miller’s latest novel, The Lake Shore Limited, has changed my mind. This is partly because he puts Miller’s work into a larger perspective:
There are several contenders (Anita Shreve, Gail Godwin), but Sue Miller might be the best poster child for the poison condescension bestowed by the term ‘women’s literature.’ She didn’t publish her first novel, ‘The Good Mother’ (1986), until she was in her 40s, but since then she’s been prolific and popular (another mark against her), writing about families and marriages, infidelity and divorce — what we call ‘literary fiction’ when men write about those things. Last year, a grudging review of ‘The Senator’s Wife’ in That Other East Coast Newspaper claimed that Miller’s novels ‘feature soap-opera plots,’ a mischaracterization broad enough to apply to any story that doesn’t involve space travel or machine guns.
Miller’s exquisite new novel, ‘The Lake Shore Limited,’ is so sophisticated and thoughtful that it should either help redeem the term ‘women’s literature’ or free her from it once and for all.
But it’s also because Charles describes Lake Shore Limited as containing “the relentless psychological analysis found in Henry James’s novels.” Centered around 9/11, the novel uses the device of a story within a story (in this case, a play within a novel) to examine “with stark honesty” what Charles calls “emotional terrain some people won’t feel comfortable in.” Since literature IS psychology, this sounds like a book I must read.