Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the first Sue Miller novel I've read. It took me awhile to get used to her style, but in the end it was worth it. This book was a reaction to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Billy, the main character, lost her lover, Gus, who was killed when the plane he was on was flown into one of the twin towers. But this wasn't a simple story about losing someone you love in a senseless act of terror. There were problems with Billy and Gus' relationship and those problems left Billy feeling confused and guilty. Since she was a playwright, she wrote a play about those feelings. The name of that play was The Lake Shore Limited, hence the name of the novel.

There were a couple of things that I found very unusual about Miller's style. First of all she included a great amount of detail that at first seemed superfluous, yet that detail seemed to push me into the characters' minds by emphasizing everything they might notice in their surroundings. Secondly, Miller generally told her readers what her characters were thinking instead of letting us see reactions that would show us their thoughts. Here's an excerpt from the novel that shows both those techniques:

“Yeah,” Pierce answered. They were all standing now. They moved into the aisle among the others inching back to the lobby. Pierce kept his hand on her elbow—a kind of sympathetic connection, she felt. She was grateful to him, but she was far away. She felt confused. Around her, she could hear others talking, speculating, commenting on the actors, on the arguments.

Some weren't. Some had shed the play quickly, were on to their own lives. She heard a voice say, “I wish I'd known it was going to rain today. I didn't bring an umbrella to work.”

All of Miller's characters seemed to analyze their own emotions and situations as if their lives were one gigantic therapy session. At the reception following a memorial service for Gus, Billy met a number of Gus' friends and colleagues who had heard about her through Gus. She kept thinking how she should be honest and explain everything, including why she wasn't part of the service. But she didn't because she felt explaining herself would be self-aggrandizing. This was his memorial service, not hers. The strange way Billy's mind worked, combined with her lack of emotion was intriguing.

I loved the way the play within a book worked. The characters in the play were aspects of Billy and all part of her need to be honest about her feelings. Also, I've been involved in school theater and community theater for years, so I can identify with the backstage activity

Oddly, I finished reading this novel the week of the Boston Marathon bombings.

I plan to read more of Sue Miller's work.

No comments:

Post a Comment