Deep family secrets lead Mimi to deep, unexpected insights into herself. As one of the Miller family, who have lived in Miller’s Valley for generations, Mimi is facing change just as her small Pennsylvania town is. As Mimi begins to realize in Miller’s Valley, Anna Quindlen’s new novel from Random House, home can be “a place where it’s just as easy to feel lost as it is to feel content.”
Anna will be appearing at Politics & Prose (5015 Connecticut Avenue NW) on Friday, April 25, at 7pm. She’ll be in conversation with columnist and author Connie Schultz—wow, two Pulitzer Prize winners! Meanwhile, you can buy the book through the Random House website or here or here. You can also connect with Anna at annaquindlen.net and request to follow her at twitter.com/annaquindlen.
“COME HOME,” I SAID. “Mom will cook for you.”
“Naaah,” he said. “That’s not a good idea.”
“She misses you.” I wanted to say, I miss you, I miss you so much my heart hurts, but that sounded like one of those stupid greeting card things to say. Plus when you’re premed expressions like that don’t work for you anymore. Broken heart, gut feeling. You’re too literal, at least in the beginning, at least until you learn that a broken heart is a real thing.
“I bet she misses you, too,” he said.
“Yeah, but I come home sometimes. You should, too. You owe her that much.” I shouldn’t have said that. The mean look Tommy had given the skinny guy came back, and his eyelids came down, and the smile was gone.
“I owe her not to have the cops show up at her house again,” he said. “That’s what I owe her.”
“What about me?” I said, and it was like all the times I hadn’t said that sentence during my whole life were there when I said it that one time.
“What about you?”
“You let me down.” And now I was crying, not even trying to hide it or rein it in.
“No I didn’t. Look at you. You’re not down. You’re up. I just left you alone. Best thing I could have done, leaving you alone.”
“You could have—” But I couldn’t finish. I don’t know what I would have said anyhow.
Tommy took his time lighting another cigarette from the butt of the last one, like he didn’t want to look at me, like we were done. I’ve never been sure, but I think as I was walking away he said, “Have a good life, corncob.” But maybe I just made that up to make myself feel better or worse, I’m still not sure which.
The next morning my mother was standing at the stove and I thought about it awhile. Then I said, “I saw Tommy last night.”
“That bar on the highway? It’s called the Plugged Nickel.”
She nodded and took a couple of strips of bacon out of the cast-iron frying pan. “I know the man who owns it. I don’t care for you going to a place like that.”
“He was asking about you.”
My mother nodded.
“He seems good.”
We found an osprey once behind Ruth’s house when I was a kid. It’s a big bird, three feet tall, with those mean little black eyes those hunting birds have. He was pressed up against the back of the house like he was hiding. He had one wing out to the side dragging in the dirt. Even if you didn’t know anything about birds you could tell his wing was broken.
“Go get the long gun, Mimi,” my father had said. LaRhonda put her hands over her face, then peeked from between her fingers.
Sometimes you see things that seem so not-right that you never forget them. That big bird of prey, standing on the ground, at our mercy, was like that. So was my mother when she sat down and looked at me. She looked old and beaten, like she might never get up from that chair. There was a little bit of Ruth in her eyes.
“You’ve always been a terrible liar, Mary Margaret,” she said. “Worse even than your father was.”
From the book Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen. Copyright © 2016 by Anna Quindlen. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.