The World Below

Sue Miller

Published by Knopf, 2001
ISBN 10: 0375410945 / ISBN 13: 9780375410949
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Synopsis: From the author of While I Was Gone, a stunning new novel that showcases Sue Miller's singular gift for exposing the nerves that lie hidden in marriages and families, and the hopes and regrets that lie buried in the hearts of women.

Maine, 1919. Georgia Rice, who has cared for her father and two siblings since her mother's death, is diagnosed, at nineteen, with tuberculosis and sent away to a sanitarium. Freed from the burdens of caretaking, she discovers a nearly lost world of youth and possibility, and meets the doomed young man who will become her lover.

Vermont, the present. On the heels of a divorce, Catherine Hubbard, Georgia's granddaughter, takes up residence in Georgia's old house. Sorting through her own affairs, Cath stumbles upon the true story of Georgia's life and marriage, and of the misunderstanding upon which she built a lasting love.

With the tales of these two women--one a country doctor's wife with a haunting past, the other a twice-divorced San Francisco schoolteacher casting about at midlife for answers to her future--Miller offers us a novel of astonishing richness and emotional depth. Linked by bitter disappointments, compromise, and powerful grace, the lives of Georgia and Cath begin to seem remarkably similar, despite their distinctly different times: two young girls, generations apart, motherless at nearly the same age, thrust into early adulthood, struggling with confusing bonds of attachment and guilt; both of them in marriages that are not what they seem, forced to make choices that call into question the very nature of intimacy, faithfulness, betrayal, and love. Marvelously written, expertly told, The World Below captures the shadowy half-truths of the visible world, and the beauty and sorrow submerged beneath the surfaces of our lives--the lost world of the past, our lost hopes for the future. A tour de force from one of our most beloved storytellers.

Review: There is nothing remarkable about the plot of Sue Miller's graceful novel, The World Below. Cath Hubbard, a San Francisco woman in her 50s, returns to her grandmother's small Vermont house after the death of an aunt who left the property to Cath and her brother Lawrence. Cath had lived with her grandparents for a few years in her teens, after her mother's suicide, and now makes her wounded way back, in the wake of a divorce, to sort through her memories of her beloved grandmother, Georgia. This is the standard fare of American literary fiction: a life change prompting a search into the past. What is far less ordinary is Miller's placid, nuanced depiction of her protagonist's emotional journey. None of Cath's feelings can be easily predicted by the reader, but all of them ring true. She finds her grandmother's diary and begins to fill in the stories that Georgia had hinted at over the years. What Cath discovers in her grandmother's journal is a secret that has lost its power to shock; and that very wearing away of taboo adds to the poignancy of Georgia's restricted life. Her story unfolds against a backdrop of Cath's more immediate griefs and concerns and begins to recede as Cath's San Francisco life returns to claim her. Miller's prose appears effortless, but is like the gestures of a magician that conceal how the trick is accomplished. The result is a sage, continually surprising novel about finding peace of mind in a combination of habit, love, and self-determination. --Regina Marler

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Title: The World Below
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 2001
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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