“Miller’s Valley” by Anna Quindlen

I picked up this book for essentially no reason at all, it was in the “Staff Picks” section of the library, which is never a driving force in my selection process. Not that I don’t think librarians would pick good books, it’s just that I pretty much ignore recommendations from anyone in regards to anything. Unless I don’t, which is frequently the case. At any rate, I grabbed it, checked it out alongside a stack of cds, and took it home.

I’ve been reading on the bus a lot lately. I got a summer job at the baseball stadium in the big city, and so I ride in on the bus from my suburban town a dozen miles from the city limits or so. I sit in my seat, listen to my headphones, and submerge myself in some book or another. Not only does it serve the purposes inherent to reading while listening to music, whatever those are, they also stop people from talking to me. I’m not antisocial, except for when I want nothing to do with societal interactions, which is frequently the case. This book drew me in swiftly. I’m also listening to The Dark Tower series via the library app, named Libby, on my Ipod (yeah, I said Ipod) on the recommendation of a friend, a recommendation I did not ignore. That series has a possessive force over my life, and, yet, I continuously chose to read this book instead of diving back into the gunslinger’s world. I mention this only to underline how much I enjoyed this book.

Here’s the deal, not much happens in Miller’s Valley. There’s a girl, she’s young, over the course of the book she grows up. Her mom is a nurse with little patience for nonsense, her father runs the farm and fixes the machines of Miller’s Valley. She has a brother who is much older and moderately successful in his field, another brother who goes to Vietnam, and suffers some significant repercussions. She has a nice friend and a mean one, a shut-in aunt, some stuff is happening in the town. Some people die along the way, in the end some interesting events come to light, raising a few interesting, and unanswered, questions.

So? Who cares? I had about 30 pages left of this book and I realized if it was an autobiography, which is essentially the style in which it was written, I might be embarrassed for the author, thinking their little life was worth writing a whole damn book about it. However, since it was fiction, instead I enjoyed the hell out of it. What gives?

Like The Old Man and the Sea or Women or many countless others, this is a story which shows that the way a story is told matters much more than the content of the story. You can go and fight dragons in outer space, but if you don’t have a feel for timing revelations, or framing characters, or simply the language in which you write, it’s probably not going to be a very good story. Miller’s Valley is just the opposite, a relatively simple story told very well. I might have to hit up that “Staff Picks” section more often.