Recently Sue Miller visited the Westport, CT Library, where she was interviewed by fiction editor Sybil Steinberg. Miller has always been one of my favorite novelists. Her most recent book THE ARSONIST is just out in the paperback edition. Set in rural New Hampshire, the story centers on a woman in her forties who has been living and working in Africa. Her parents have recently retired to their summer home and her father is slipping into dementia. Her sister and brother-in-law are building a house nearby. There is a history with the townspeople and the summer people whose range of attitudes towards each other simmer and then boil over when the arsons start. Investigation into the fires is reported by the owner (who is also reporter and distributor) of the local newspaper. Like all of Miller’s novels, there is a plot with a touch of mystery, a study of family and other relationships, and a brave attempt to look at the possibilities and the realities of love. Everyone is trying to come home. Home to that place of comfort, whether a house in the woods or an emotional cocoon…or the role in life that feels just right. Fires – actual or imagined, external or internal – impede the way.
While at the Library, Sue Miller talked about her only non-fiction book THE STORY OF MY FATHER. I had missed this older book and decided to read it. The memoir takes us through the deepening dementia and death of her father. She looks back to her family history, looks clearly at the confusing and frightening present, and looks with hesitation towards the unwanted and inevitable future. From generations of ordained ministers including her father, the author weaves her Biblical understanding and her religious experiences into the narration. This is thought-provoking stuff – nothing self-righteous here. Miller and her father were close and her portrait of him reveals a gentle man who had the ability to give his complete and sincere attention to the people around him. This ability was one of the gifts that faded as his disease progressed. Details of her father’s decline are reported with dignity and compassion. Other members of her family and their roles are clearly drawn, as well as her own. This is beautifully written and deeply poignant…a realistic and eloquent tribute…a book to reflect on, to recommend, and to discuss.
The paperback edition of THE STORY OF MY FATHER includes a discussion guide and an interview with Sue Miller. The interviewer is Michelle Huneven, author of another of my favorite books, the novel JAMESLAND. Huneven and Miller are friends. Sue Miller is the author of eleven novels. Her first book THE GOOD MOTHER (1986) was a bestseller made into a film starring Diane Keaton.