THE LAKE SHORE LIMITED by Sue Miller

Book Quote:

“No more Gus. No more Billy, either, not as they were then. Taken away – - by death, by life, inexorable life. Billy felt tears at the back of her throat, but she didn’t yield to them.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (APR 8, 2010)

I have been a fan of Sue Miller since her first novel, The Good Mother. Her newest novel, The Lake Shore Limited, is original and transformative. It is a novel within novels, a story of a play that tells the story of this novel alongside the main narratives of the characters as they unfold.

The novel is told from the vantage points of four characters: Billy, Rafe, Leslie, and Sam. Each of them is connected by at least one degree of separation from each other. Billy is a playwright who has written a play about a terrorist bombing of a railroad. In real life, she has lost her lover, Gus, to the tragedies of 9/11. As we read this book, we are gradually allowed to see how much of her play is truly about her as well as her many personal aspects of self. Like all of us, Billy uses “masks” to protect her privacy. Her work as a playwright gives her additional means and artistic license within which to conceal or expose herself.

Leslie is Gus’ older sister, fourteen years his senior. She holds on to the belief that Gus and Billy would have gotten married had Gus not died. She feels a strong need to take care of Billy and to help her survive her tragic loss. She also wants to help Billy move on in life at the same time that she is afraid that Billy will move on. She, like the other characters, are filled with conflicted and ambivalent emotions, often not clear to themselves and definitely not static.

Rafe is the starring actor in Billy’s play, The Lake Shore Limited. He is married to a woman who has Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also known as ALS. His wife, Lauren, is a complete invalid and has reached the point where her speech is barely understandable and she is unable to walk. Billy decides to seduce Rafe realizing that what might happen could be anything, but it would not be a relationship longer than one night. Rafe is so lonely and despairing that he succumbs to Billy’s advances. His character in the play is a man who fears that his wife may have died in the terrorist attack and is not sure how to feel. His infidelity with Billie brings up a lot of conflicted and guilty emotions for him that he puts to brilliant use in his acting.

Sam is an old friend of Leslie’s, an architect who Leslie invites to a dinner with Billy in order to set them up. Sam is a widower, having lost his wife to breast cancer when his children were young. He is fragile and feels inept in this difficult world. He is distant from his three children and had a failed second marriage. Of all the characters in this novel, Sam is the least developed and his role is not clear.

All of the characters have suffered great and astounding losses, tragedies of the highest order. Their grief has led them to succumb to beliefs about the uncertainty of this world that others may not even think about. Some have developed protective shells that are hard to break. Others are so fragile that their emotional stability seems miraculous. All of Miller’s characters lead rich inner lives, at times often irreconcilable with their outer lives and discordant from what they hope for.

This is a book filled with symbols and metaphors, a book of the depths to which people fall and the heights to which they aspire. It is a book of lightning flashes of ideas and of the people coupled with these ideas. Miller realizes that life makes no promises and that, perhaps, even to wake up in the morning is a miracle of its own.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 85 readers
PUBLISHER: Knopf (April 6, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Sue Miller
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:The Senator’s Wife

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April 8, 2010 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Contemporary, Reading Guide

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