The World Below Author:Sue Miller 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, ... more »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.« less
Looking at old photographs of family, I have often wondered what their lives were like and what they were thinking when the photo was taken. Sue Miller explores that idea and the concept that below a surface of daily life our parents, grandparents, etc., had challenges, wants, needs, desires, secrets, conflicts that we never saw and never knew about. Sometimes because we don't see them as real people, with lives and pasts, we don't walk through the doors into their lives that they open. Sometimes we just have to reach a certain maturity before we are ready to accept that they may have wanted something else out of life than what they were given, or may have had a colorful, interesting or even sad past. Miller's book explores all of this and more as her main character tries to reconcile her past, present and fashion a future while learning more about a grandmother she deeply loved but never truly understood while the woman was alive. This is not a book of rapids and waterfalls, but a ride down the river of time, where we never quite know what will appear around the next bend, or what lies under the surface, in the world below.
Miller gets into the internal mindset of the two women in this story in a unique way. Catherine (a twice married woman in her 50's with grown children) returns to her grandmother's (Georgia) home and finds her diary. We learn about Georgia through her diary entries and I am thankful for Miller's gift of weaving the alternating storylines into my own heart. Georgia, who was diagnosed with tuberculosis as a teen, is the character I am most interested in. Her life-altering experience in the "san" often left me wishing I would've asked my own grandmother more questions about her older sister who was diagnosed with TB in the 1940s and "was sent away to the san" too. I greedily found myself researching the two sanitariums in my own state of Michigan (Battle Creek and Traverse City had sanitariums in the 1880s) and tried to imagine what life was was like for my great-aunt who went to the Battle Creek sanitarium. I know my own grandmother took her sister's child and raised him for the three years she was in the san. My grandmother talked about her sister's absence with great sadness. She didn't reveal too much (it seems many people from her generation who suffered greatly didn't talk about it but "got on with their lives.") Georgia endured, sacrificed but always remembered. The rich, emotional depth of "The World Below" caused me to shed tears for everyone sentenced to time at a santitarium -- then and now.
I like the way that the author blended the stories of Catherine and her grandmother Georgia. The story is nicely written and really delves into the feeling of emotional helplessness that the characters are feeling. A good book, will not disappoint.
I'm a fan of Sue Miller but did not like this book as much as some of her others (While I Was Gone, Family Pictures, The Senators' Wife). The New England setting was very vivid but overall the story was too slow and meandering for me.