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The World Below was among the most spirited, insightful, and engaging books I've read/heard in a long time. I found that the somewhat tired story of a tired mom, empty-nested and nearly joyless (save the phone calls and visits with her adult children) was made fresh again by Miller's thoughtful prose, layered plot, and generational shifts of narratorial perspective.
The main character is a 50-something woman who can't shake the feeling that she is in some way abnormal, partly stemming from a disappointing childhood abruptly shortened by the demands of a mentally ill mother. What's more, she feels she has fallen short of the expectations thrust upon her by two ex-husbands, and with believable self-doubt she ponders how in the world she had become "one of those women" with two failed marriages.
It happens that she must decide the fate of her grandparents' home. It is a family duty which affords her, if nothing else, something useful to do that is refreshingly removed from her current state of affairs. When she visits the estate- packed with dusty artifacts of family history-- she slowly begins piecing together the chronology of a mysterious and taboo period in her late grandmother's life. As she struggles to make sense of terse diary entries, she is both intrigued and somehow strengthened by what she learns of her grandmother's imperfect past.
For me, it was fascinating to glimpse the grandmother's life as a patient in an early 1900's sanitorium. Also interesting was the friendship which developed between the (present day) granddaughter and an elderly neighbor-- a chivalrous gentlemen who had been a diligent "caretaker" of the quaint New England home.
Miller is masterful in the art of character development; even minor characters are infused with personality and are strikingly believable. It is a thoughtful story of self-discovery and personal growth, of familial strengths and the flaws which must always coexist.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
Enjoyed the complexities of this book and a glimpse into a past unspoken world similar to my own mother's. Although this is a work of fiction, I understand the research that must have gone into the descriptions of TB and life in a sanitarium in hope of recovery.
This is no Harlequin romance. Thank goodness!
5 of 5 people found this review helpful