Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

Miller’s Valley
by
Anna Quindlen

Genre: Fiction

Rating:

Does the land you live on define your family? That question may not be as relevant in today’s world, but there was a time when multiple generations of families were born and raised in the same place. What happens when a family like that is forced to leave the only home they have known for hundreds of years?

That’s the problem Bud and Miriam Miller face when they learn that the government plans to displace an entire town and turn Miller’s Valley into a reservoir. It’s the central conflict in the Millers’ marriage and one which affects their family and neighbors in a multitude of ways. Bud does not want to leave, but Miriam is ready. Some friends sell, others are holdouts.

Miller’s Valley takes place during the 1960s and 70s in a small farming town in Pennsylvania and is narrated by Mimi, the youngest Miller. In addition to a story about eminent domain, it is Mimi’s coming-of-age tale. As a ten-year-old girl, her world is made up of her family and a couple friends, but as she grows and her two older brothers leave, Mimi tries to imagine what she will do. Her brother, Tommy, urges her, “You come up with your own plan, Meems. No matter what happens.”

Despite a promising future, family obligations and loyalty to her father’s beliefs press hard against Mimi’s heart and she becomes more entrenched in life in the valley, despite its doomed future. Mimi’s best friend, Donald, moves to California and her Aunt Ruth hasn’t left her house in years. Tommy and her other brother, Eddie, go off in completely directions and Bud Miller continues to ask, “Who will run the farm when I’m gone?”

I enjoyed reading Miller’s Valley because I had only thought of eminent domain in terms of roads being built, and did not know of the government’s practice of flooding towns in order to build reservoirs. I live near a manmade lake with a very similar story, so this book was interesting to me.

Miller’s Valley had the potential to be a great story, but it is a more of a fast read with characters I seem to have met in other books. In addition, Quindlen finishes fast, with a couple hanging plot lines and a “didn’t see that coming” moment that may frustrate some readers. But as I have many reading moods, this one fit in with a busy week and I enjoyed starting and ending my days with an easy story.

I recommend Miller’s Valley to readers who like light historical fiction about family and conflict.

And for those who are interested in the history, here’s a definition of eminent domain and a couple stories about towns that were flooded:

Merriam-Webster definition of eminent domain: a right of a government to take private property for public use by virtue of the superior dominion of the sovereign power over all lands within its jurisdiction

Ephrata Review: “Cocalico Corner: Two tales of two valleys” by Donna Reed – April 27, 2016

Pleasant Valley Lost by Joseph J. Swope – 2015

The Story of Milford Mills and the Marsh Creek Valley: Chester County, Pennsylvania by Stuart and Catherine Quillman – 1989


Other Anna Quindlen books reviewed:

      

Black and Blue
Good Dog. Stay.
Still Life with Bread Crumbs


I read Miller’s Valley as part of my library’s Summer Reading
Challenge to “read a book you own but haven’t read.”


Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

 

Friday Fiction – Jessica Ch 34 “The Car-Port House”

Friday Fiction

Jessica

Thank you for visiting Book Club Mom’s Friday Fiction. Below is Chapter 34 of Jessica. Jessica is nineteen-years-old and she is trying break the pattern of loss and unhappiness that has defined her childhood. What she wants most is to build a life with Jimmy, but Jimmy is trapped in a dangerous family dynamic. When she learns the truth about Jimmy, it’s up to her to save him. To do this, she must turn to the one person who has hurt her the most, her father. A series of events pushes Jessica beyond anything she can imagine and forces her to define happiness and love in a different way, and at a heartbreaking price.

Chapter 34 – “The Car-Port House”

I needed to see Jimmy. I didn’t think I had heard the whole story. It couldn’t be true. I had to see Jimmy to understand. I couldn’t believe that Jimmy would have told me stories all these months about fake robberies. I didn’t want to believe any of what he told me.

First Dad told me that Jimmy had been so upset and confused after he came out of the office building that Dad had trouble talking to him and explaining to him that no one had shown up. Jimmy yelled at Dad that Stu had set him up. “They’re going to arrest me for breaking in and Stu’s nowhere in sight!” he cried. Dad still thought there was really going to be a break-in. He didn’t know what to think.

It was a long ride from Philly to Jimmy’s house and by the time they got there, Dad was sure there was something wrong with Jimmy. Jimmy screamed and moaned during the ride home, blaming Stu, yelling at himself for getting mixed up in the whole thing, and finally falling asleep. Dad called me just after they arrived at Jimmy’s house. Jimmy seemed calm to Dad then and after Dad and I hung up, the two of them sat at Jimmy’s kitchen table, Jimmy’s head hanging so low it almost touched the table, neither one speaking. I thought about the picture of Jimmy’s mother, sitting on the counter and I wondered if somehow her image could have taken in what had happened. Dad tried to fix him something to eat, to get him to have a drink of water. Jimmy refused.

Stu walked into the house at 4:00 a.m. and he was so relieved to see Jimmy sitting there that he burst into tears. “I was looking all over for you Jimmy,” he’d told him. “I couldn’t imagine where you had gone. I tried Jessie’s house, I tried your boss. Where were you Jimmy? I was so worried! I’m so glad you’re safe!”

Jimmy’s head snapped up when he heard his brother’s voice. He jumped up from his chair and his face was full of rage. He walked up to Stu and swung at him, hitting Stu in the eye. Stu was bigger, but Jimmy was full of an intense anger. Dad told me that Stu tried to grab his brother, but Jimmy pulled out of his grip. He ran to the corner of the kitchen and grabbed a knife from the drawer. Dad and Stu called out to Jimmy, “Put it down, Jimmy,” but Jimmy had a crazy look in his face. Jimmy was crying, sobbing and he yelled, “You let me down, Stu! You were supposed to be there for me, but you let me down. You left me there all by myself. How was I supposed to know what to do, Stu? How was I? How, Stu, How?”

Stu did not understand. Dad had not explained to Stu about their night in Philly and the staged break-in. He did not know yet that it was all a story that had only existed in Jimmy’s head. They argued and Jimmy stood there with the knife in his hand, when Dad told me that suddenly Jimmy grew quiet and he had a strange, almost peaceful look on his face.

“You let me down, Stu,” he said and then Jimmy took the knife to his wrist and cut a notch to the inside of his arm. Dad said that Stu called out, “No Jimmy!” and flew across the kitchen and pulled the knife away from Jimmy before he could make any more cuts. He grabbed a towel and wrapped it tightly around Jimmy’s arm and said to Dad, “Take us to the hospital.”

Dad drove Stu and Jimmy to the Springs County Hospital and when they patched up the cut on Jimmy’s arm, the doctor led him to a private room where he talked to Jimmy alone. It was then that Dad and Stu talked for the first time about Jimmy and what had happened in Philadelphia and Stu tried to make sense of the story. Stu insisted there had been no robberies. He told Dad that Jimmy had always been the one to make up stories, to explain his behavior. This time, because Jimmy had tried to hurt himself, the doctors kept him at the hospital overnight.

Dad explained all of this to me, but nothing made sense. My head was reeling from my own doctor’s visit and my night waiting for Dad and Jimmy to call. Dr. Hutchins talked me into taking the next dose of my medication and, even though I hadn’t wanted to take it, I was feeling like I could understand things better.

“Mom,” I said. “Can you take me to see Jimmy?”

I don’t think Mom wanted me to see Jimmy right away. She never liked him and this was another excellent reason to keep us apart.

“Why don’t you let him settle down before you see him, Jessica?” she suggested. So we went home and Mom insisted I take the day off from work. “I’ll call Millie for you, Jessica. You go lie down.”

I told Mom I wasn’t tired. I didn’t want her to be right, but the truth was I was exhausted. I lay on my bed and closed my eyes. My brain was a jumble of all the things that had happened and all that Mom and Dad and Dr. Hutchins had told me. Nothing made sense. I tried to sort out the pieces, why Jimmy would make up a story. How was it that Stu was a completely different person than the one I thought he was? Why didn’t Jimmy tell me the truth? There were so many questions that didn’t have answers.

And then I thought of the stacked rocks and the strange guy in the beat-up brown sedan. I knew Jimmy hadn’t made him up because I had seen him. He hadn’t made up the rocks either because I had seen those too and I had seen how they changed over the days. A signal, Jimmy had told me. A signal that it was all clear to drop off the things they stole. It didn’t make sense! And I had seen the rocks at this person’s house. I wanted to know who that person was and the more I thought about it, the more sure I was that this person would be able to answer my questions.

I fell asleep and slept for four hours. Mom was in the kitchen cooking dinner when I woke up. She must have taken the whole day off from work to take me to the doctor’s office and then to stay with me while I slept. Maybe she didn’t trust me. I knew myself that I was going to try to see Jimmy as soon as possible. I was going to ask Jimmy about this strange person and as soon as I could I would drive over to the house with the beat up sedan under the car port to see what I could see.

“Don’t do anything until tomorrow, Jessica,” Mom warned me. She had spoken before I’d even said a word and it bothered me that she had read my mind. “Give Jimmy a chance to rest, okay? And maybe you should talk to Stu first anyway, Jessica. He might be able to tell you things that Jimmy can’t.”

I knew Mom thought Jimmy wasn’t ready to talk to me. It might have been true. But I mostly thought that Mom wanted to keep him away from me. I don’t think she trusted me to take my medication and she was right. “And Jessica, you need to take your medication again before you go to bed.” I hadn’t decided what I was going to do about my prescription! I had only taken the last dose to get Mom and Dr. Hutchins off my back so I could find out more about Jimmy. Now I could see that Mom was going to watch me closely so to be sure I stayed on schedule.

“Mom!” I yelled, trying to shake the sleepiness from my head. “I’m fine and if I decide I don’t need my next dose, you’re going to have to deal with it. I told Dr. Hutchins those pills make me feel dead inside. She said she’s going to try to find different ones for me. Besides, I don’t want to be in that dead kind of fog when I see Jimmy. And I’m going to see him tomorrow, Mom, whether you think it’s a good idea or not.”

Mom didn’t know about the rocks or about the guy. Maybe Jimmy and I were the only ones who knew. Maybe Jimmy wasn’t telling a complete lie. There was something more to this.

I called the diner the next morning and Millie had put me on just the dinner shift again. “Okay, Millie. That’s fine for today, but can you put me back to the breakfast and lunch shifts tomorrow? You know I want more hours than that and I feel fine now. I need the money.”

Millie didn’t want to agree to anything. She gave me that uncomfortable feeling like she was doing it for my own good. I didn’t like her watching over me, like Mom.   But at least it gave me time to drive past the car-port house.

Thank you for reading – all comments are welcome.

Click below to check out earlier chapters.

Chapter 1 – “Jimmy”
Chapter 2 – “Stevie”
Chapter 3 – “A Photo and a Letter”
Chapter 4 – “The Life Within”
Chapter 5 – “Jimmy’s Truck”
Chapter 6 – “The Springs Diner”
Chapter 7 – “Dinner and a Game”
Chapter 8 – “He Made Me Nervous”
Chapter 9 – “I Called Dad on My Thirteenth Birthday”
Chapter 10 – “Connections and Time”
Chapter 11 – “The Reverse Apology”
Chapter 12 – “Empty Bedrooms”
Chapter 13 – “Job Description”
Chapter 14 – “The Car I Saw”
Chapter 15 – “It’s Not What You Think”
Chapter 16 – “A Different Route”
Chapter 17 – “Choosing Balance”
Chapter 18 – “A Mother Sees”
Chapter 19 – “Taking More”
Chapter 20 – “Robbing the Future”
Chapter 21 – “I Thought I Didn’t Need Her”
Chapter 22 – “It Was Up to Me”
Chapter 23 – “Separate and Icy”
Chapter 24 – “Striking a Nerve”
Chapter 25 – “Help Has Its Price”
Chapter 26 – “Who Asked for Help?”
Chapter 27 – “You’ve Done Enough”
Chapter 28 – “The Plan”
Chapter 29 – “Who Says I’m Not Okay?”
Chapter 30 – “What’s so Great about Balance?”
Chapter 31 – “I’ll Call You When It’s Over”
Chapter 32 – “Sorting It Out”
Chapter 33 – “Truth and Lies”

© All rights reserved.  All material on this blog is the property of Book Club Mom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 

Friday Fiction Jessica Ch 18 A Mother Sees

Friday Fiction

Jessica

Thank you for visiting Book Club Mom’s Friday Fiction. Below is Chapter 18 of Jessica, a story about a nineteen-year-old woman who is trying break the pattern of loss and unhappiness that has defined her childhood. What Jessica wants most is to build a life with her boyfriend, Jimmy, but Jimmy is trapped in a dangerous family dynamic. When Jessica learns the truth about Jimmy, it’s up to her to save him. To do this, she must turn to the one person who has hurt her the most, her father. A series of events pushes Jessica beyond anything she can imagine and forces her to define happiness and love in a different way, and at a heartbreaking price.

Chapter 18 – A Mother Sees

I beat Jimmy to his house one night after work. We had talked that morning and I told him I would make him dinner at his house. I had seen that his truck was missing from the driveway on my way home from the diner, but I went home and showered, thinking he’d be back by the time I got there.

It didn’t matter to me, I thought, getting there before him and I found the extra key that was hidden on top of the garage door frame and let myself in. I had two bags of groceries and imagined myself walking into my picture of what might be our own house some day. I smiled at the thought of arriving home on some future day ahead of Jimmy and starting dinner for us, just like I was about to do in his own house.

I walked into the kitchen and put my bags on the counter, and I looked over at the picture of Jimmy’s mother, thinking she would somehow approve of what she saw, me taking care of her son now that she was gone. It put me in one of those sad and sweet moments and I thought about how happy I was going to be to see Jimmy walk in the door.

I didn’t expect to see Stu walk through the door. I didn’t pay attention to his schedule and a twinge of anxiety went through me. I tried to get myself ready for a comment about me making Jimmy dinner. I was sure he would make fun of me. I remembered how he grabbed my arm at the diner, acting somehow that it was his arm to grab.

Stu was loud as he banged around the side room and dropped his things on the floor. He walked straight into the kitchen and headed straight for the fridge when he saw me standing there chopping vegetables.

“Well, look who it is!” and he grinned as he grabbed a beer out of the fridge. He twisted off the cap and walked past me to the trash, taking a path that was closer to me than he needed. He leaned against the counter and looked at me. “You making me dinner, Jes?” he asked.

I tried not to be defensive. I tried to be light, tried to be cool as I answered. Stu rattled me. I swallowed and looked straight at him, foolishly hoping to gain strength by staring right at the enemy. “This is dinner for Jimmy and me.”

“How sweet,” he mocked. “Well, I don’t want to interfere. When’s the hubby getting home, little lady?”

“Very funny,” I said, trying keep strength in my voice. I shifted my feet to a more solid position with my back to the counter. Stu noticed the change. He came towards me and I realized the mistake of my movement, for it put me out there for him to approach. He took a drink from his beer, smiled and put the bottle down. “You’re a pretty young thing, Jes, you know that?” he asked. I had no good answer for him. I wanted to say shut up, to say stop, but I had no chance because in the next moment Stu was right there at me, pressing his mouth against mine and I had nowhere to go. The space between me and the counter was gone as I felt the sharp edge press into my back.

I wanted to slap his face, to ram my knee into him, but as hard as his mouth had kissed me and as hard as he had pushed me against the counter, he suddenly stopped. He made a hideous smirk at me and said, “Well, we can’t get carried away tonight, Jes, since lover boy will be here soon. I wouldn’t want to spoil your dinner plans.”

And with that, Stu grabbed his beer and left the kitchen, pounded his way upstairs. I looked again at the picture of Jimmy’s mom and somehow felt ashamed that she had to see what kind of man her oldest son had become.

Thank you for reading.  All comments are welcome.

Click below to check out earlier chapters.

Chapter 1 – Jimmy
Chapter 2 – Stevie
Chapter 3 – A Photo and a Letter
Chapter 4 – The Life Within
Chapter 5 – Jimmy’s Truck
Chapter 6 – The Springs Diner
Chapter 7 – Dinner and a Game
Chapter 8 – He Made Me Nervous
Chapter 9 – I Called Dad on My Thirteenth Birthday
Chapter 10 – Connections and Time
Chapter 11 – The Reverse Apology
Chapter 12 – Empty Bedrooms
Chapter 13 – Job Description
Chapter 14 – The Car I Saw
Chapter 15 – It’s Not What You Think
Chapter 16 – A Different Route
Chapter 17 – Choosing Balance

© All rights reserved.  All material on this blog is the property of Book Club Mom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.