Wednesday, June 1, 2011

THE LAKE SHORE LIMITED by Sue Miller


What if you were about to break up with your live-in boyfriend, and he died in the 9/11 tragedy? That scenario is the source of complicated emotions for Billy, a petite female playwright who has undermined her relationship with her boyfriend Gus's sister, Leslie, because Billy has never confessed that she was on the verge of breaking up with Gus. Thus, Billy has written a play in which a man's wife is possibly killed in a terrorist attack on a train, the Lake Shore Limited, and the man is semi-relieved that he may not have to tell her that he's leaving her for another woman. The play thus serves as Billy's indirect confession when Leslie sees the play. Leslie, along with her husband Pierce, has brought Sam, a former real estate client, now divorced, to meet Billy and help her recover from her grief. Then Leslie begins to regret having made this introduction, since (a) Billy may not be grieving and (b) Leslie may have a repressed thing for Sam herself. Nonetheless, Billy and Sam make an unlikely and tenuous connection. Sue Miller's characters are always struggling with inner conflict, seeking happiness without knowing exactly how to go about it. She has neither perfect characters nor one-dimensional evil characters. I love that everyone behaves in a very human, though not necessarily predictable way. Sam is my favorite character in this book. While nursing a crush on Leslie, he makes an impulsive drive to her house with the intention of whisking her away from her husband. On the way, though, he witnesses a car crash, and the scene, fully described near the end of the novel, gives us some insight into who he really is. There are so many themes at work here, but the two that stood out to me were the feeling of being unencumbered—by guilt or by a relationship that no longer works—and being receptive to possibilities. I like the word "possibilities"—the author's, not mine—so much better than "hope" or "opportunities," because it conjures up a breaking free of the mold of one's life, perhaps even reinventing one's self. In one chapter, Billy muses on the various endings she envisioned for her play and seems to have settled on the perfect one. These "possibilities" may have mirrored the author's thought processes on how to end this book, and I think she made the right choice also.

2 comments:

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I've enjoyed most of Sue Miller's books. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for visiting my blog recently.

Patti's Pages said...

Likewise!