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Authors: Sue Miller

The World Below

BOOK: The World Below
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Miller writes with spare, old-fashioned grace, her story luminous with the small details of everyday life. And if Cath’s journey is the vehicle for telling the story, it’s Georgia whose presence hovers over every moment—she’s as compelling a character as any Miller has yet created.… Miller is exploring, in this fine novel, the endless interplay of past, present, and future in human lives. Forget dainty domestic drama—this is meaty stuff.”

The Charlotte Observer

“Sue Miller’s work belongs at the top of the novel of domestic realism, of the relations between men and women, of hungry generations treading one another down but taking some pleasure in the interplay. Her achievement is to have portrayed this in language that for all its incidental poetry makes us also feel that the poetry isn’t what matters, that her stories are told by employing, as Wordsworth put it, ‘Words/Which speak of nothing more than what we are.’ ”

The New York Times Book Review

“What Miller achieves consistently is a certain luminous portrait of the life lived day to day: the choices made, the regrets suffered, the cracks in the foundation we choose to confront or avoid.”

The Boston Globe

“Each voice [is] true and distinct. But it is the intricate structure that elevates the novel, the parallels between Georgia and Catherine, the contrasts, echoes, all that is submerged, imagined, needed, the funeral and the birth that frame the story.”

The Miami Herald

“Absorbing … Miller’s writing, graced by well-crafted psychological insight, is mesmerizing.… Miller has an uncanny ear for the humming routines of daily life.… Miller unwaveringly explores the myriad accidental moments that, for better or worse, shape the continuity of our lives.”

The Denver Post

—The Philadelphia Inquirer

“[Miller] is both a gifted writer and a great novelist.…
The World Below
is a technically elegant work whose structural complexities are finessed with the deft assurance of, well, a master. There are no pyrotechnical displays here, no straining for brilliance, no intellectual razzle-dazzle, no stylistic huffing and puffing.… But it’s still fine reading, delivering a full load of intelligence, boldness, and unvarnished sentiment—and making it seem effortless.”

The Raleigh News & Observer

“The World Below
is not a book to take lightly.… The characters dance between soaring hope and sobering mortality. Wondrous as the story is, Miller’s talents are even more so.
The World Below
explores a world of themes, not only about life and death, but the relationships between men and women, family and friends. Sue Miller’s work will linger in the memory long after readers put it aside. It’s a lovely read.”

The Nashville Tennessean

“Few writers are so attuned to the depths that lie beneath even the most ordinary-seeming lives, the accretion of choices and pure chance that make us who we are. And few writers are so adept at revealing those depths.… Sue Miller manages to convey the drama of ‘ordinary’ life with a subtlety and intelligence not always found in novelists whose names appear regularly on the bestseller lists.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch

The World Below
is a little like savoring a marvelous old album whose photographs are arranged less chronologically than by family traditions and relationships.… Sue Miller has created for us a place where we can go to discover what truly matters most in our lives.
The World Below
is her most illuminating book: profoundly human, fully engaging story-telling from one of America’s most insightful and accomplished contemporary novelists, showing us how, in these troubling times, literature itself can still be ‘a homeland.’ ”

The Burlington Free Press


Miller’s prose is dazzling, both economical and elegant, and her observations … are often moving and unexpectedly profound.
The World Below
ultimately is filled with life, and just like life, it exposes us to sobering choices, unexpected pleasures, and rich rewards.”

—Wilmington Sunday News Journal

“Sue Miller exemplifies that uncommonly endearing breed of novelist who, on occasion, is taken for granted.…[She] has presented adults and children in a manner that arrests the reader, chiefly because the plot situations she fashions, typically low-key, strike so close to home for so many of us.”

Houston Chronicle

“Beautifully rendered … Miller’s sense of family and sexual dynamics is as well honed as ever in her latest outing.… The stories of the two women, past and present, bob up and down in the turbulent, muddied waters of recollection. In masterful strokes, the novel takes on a crystalline clarity that threatens to inflict paper cuts via the sharpness of its author’s vision. Miller outdoes herself. Hope dwells eternal for those who dare seek it in
The World Below
. Do dare.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“In her subtle interweaving of the two women’s lives, Miller reveals the world below the surface and uncovers a rich tapestry of needs and desires.… What gives this book its emotional richness is the wonderful language that pierces to the heart of each character’s struggle to make a richer, freer life. And that richness is captured in the story’s central metaphor.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Miller limns contemporary life in deft, sure strokes, with an unerring ear for the way parents and children talk; no one can parse a modern marriage as well as she can.… In the Holbrookes, Miller has created a marriage that survives despite its fault lines, a marriage that seems both modern and old-fashioned: recognizably fraught, yet enduring, the sort of marriage readers hunger to read about. Perhaps that’s why this novel is so satisfying.”

Publishers Weekly
(boxed and starred review)

Also by Sue Miller

A Ballantine Book
Published by The Random House Publishing Group

Copyright © 2001 by Sue Miller
Reading group guide copyright © 2002 by Sue Miller and The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

BALLANTINE and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
READER’S CIRCLE and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2002091348

eISBN: 978-0-375-41423-7

This edition published by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.


To the memory of Marguerite Mills Beach,
my own beloved storytelling grandmother.



I’m grateful to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the Bunting Fellowship program for the gift of time and a tiny aericcum-computer that allowed me to finish this book; to Perri Klass for answering my many questions and for guiding me through the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Boston Medical Center; and to Doug Bauer for his generous help.



Other Books by This Author

Title Page




Part One

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight

Part Two

Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen

About the Author

A Reader’s Guide



magine it: a dry, cool day, the high-piled cumulus clouds moving slowly from northwest to southeast in the sky, their shadows following them across the hay fields yet to be cut for the last time this year. Down a narrow dirt road between the fields, a horse-drawn carriage, two old people wearing their worn Sunday clothes seated side by side in it, driving to town for their grown daughter’s funeral. Neither of them spoke, though you could see, if you cared to look, that the old woman’s lips were moving ceaselessly, silently repeating the same few phrases over and over. It was her intention, formed over the long weeks her daughter lay dying, to rescue her grandchildren from their situation, from their motherless house. To take all three of them back to the farm with her. She was rehearsing what she’d say, though she wasn’t aware of her mouth forming the words, and her husband didn’t notice.

Imagine this too: later in the afternoon of the same long day, the two older grandchildren, the girls, laughing together. Laughing cruelly at the old woman, their grandmother, for her misguided idea.

But perhaps it wasn’t truly cruel. They were children, after all. As thoughtless as children usually are. What’s more, they’d spent a good part of this strange day, the day of their mother’s burial,
laughing. Laughing nervously, perhaps with even a touch of hysteria, mostly because they didn’t know what they ought to feel or think. Laughter was the easiest course. It was their way to ward off all the dark feelings waiting for them.

BOOK: The World Below
2.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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