I got sucked into it willingly, this familiar Sue Miller terrain with its combination of realism, manipulation, and current events. Once I was at page 100, I thought, why am I reading this soapy stuff, and then dashed through without coming up for air until I was done.
The thing about Sue Miller is that I sort of expect the worst for her characters. She has the ability to create a feeling of suspense, as if something important is going to happen, just give it another five pages, and then the action I was expecting fails to occur. I feel like a ninth grader unsatisfied with her ice cream choice. Then why do I keep going?
I keep going because I am her audience. I am a middle aged, middle class, educated woman. That is who Sue Miller writes for. Her characters come from that class. They are professors, doctors, architects, realtors. They are in helping professions. Some of them are teachers. I recognize these people. They are mostly married, and have sex in graphic detail. One of the keys to happiness is orgasm. You can tell how happy by how many orgasms the character has.
So there is this tie to the physical life of the characters in her narratives. Lake Shore Limited is about a playwright whose live-in lover was killed in one of the planes on September 11. Her new play touches on an act of terrorism that may have killed the wife of the main character while he is engaged in an affair and trying to break free of his wife. When she is missing from the train that was blown up, he is at the brink of deciding whether to stay and play the dutiful bereaved widower or leave and begin his life with his new woman.
The book centers on the play and I thought why not just include the play in its entirety in the book, but the point of the book is to have each of the four main characters grasp the meaning of the play as it relates to their lives.
The structure of the book switches from each of the four characters at regular intervals. At one point, one of the characters says about another: “Not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.” Exactly. Sometimes the characters seem awfully slow to catch on what is obvious to the reader.
Still, I have been mulling over this book, thinking about the dilemma of what your duty is to the dead who are killed in acts of terrorism. It is a strange obligation that comes with the mourning of people instantly snatched up by the media and patriotism and other things unrelated to who the person was or what your relationship was with that person. This is at heart a very thoughtful treatment of a new kind of subject.