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The Lake Shore Limited Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 6, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307264211
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307264213
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #825,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Questions for Sue Miller on The Lake Shore Limited

Q: The Lake Shore Limited takes its title from the famous train, but it is also the title of a play embedded within this novel--a play about a terrorist bombing of that train as it pulls into Union Station in Chicago, and a man waiting to hear whether his estranged wife is among the survivors. Billy Gertz, the woman who's written the play, has waited in just such a way on 9/11 to hear whether her lover, Gus, was on one of the planes used in that attack. Was there one event in particular that sparked the idea for The Lake Shore Limited?
A: Yes. The spark came from a friend who had a relationship that would have ended sooner than it did had not her lover’s brother died on 9/11. While this situation is not like the one I created for Billy, my fictional playwright, the situation started me thinking about the far reach of such an event; and the variety of responses that play out around it, even at some distance. And the way in which the responses may be based in feelings that might be not the expected one--i.e., the way in which sometimes we're called on to enact something we don’t feel, and the discomfort and sense of alienation from ourselves that comes from that.

Q: Much of the book centers around the characters’ reactions to Billy’s play, "The Lake Shore Limited." How and why did you structure the book as, in essence, a play within a play?
A: As I began to include some of the lines from the play and create scenes in rehearsal, it began to seem more important to me. It began to seem central to the book, actually. I began to see the book as at least in part a kind of speculation on how the experience of art can be transforming in life--for those who create it, as Billy and also Rafe, the actor, do; and for those who take it in and ponder it and ask about its connections to their own lives. And then, I suppose, I just got interested in the play, too--in writing it, at least the part you read in the book.

Q: The viewpoint in The Lake Shore Limited flips amongst four characters, two male (Rafe and Sam) and two female (Leslie and Billy) all of whom are at various ages and stages of their life. Why did you choose to cast the book in this way?
A: I wanted the book to look at the way this play strikes a variety of people. I had Billy nearly from the start of thinking about the book, and Leslie came next, because I knew I wanted two versions, two understandings, of what the real story was about Billy and Gus, with the play mediating between them. But I wanted to broaden the impact of the play, too--to have it speak not just to the people directly involved, but to others, with other stories. Rafe and his life came next, more or less in a rush of notemaking and writing. Sam’s was last, and most complicated to develop--though I knew from the start about his connection with Leslie.

Q: You so eloquently write about the interior lives of people who are trying to understand their feelings, their relationships, themselves. How do you create such three dimensional characters, each with their own vivid and complicated pasts?
A: Now THIS is the kind of question I like, wrapped neatly in a compliment. And I think I’ve started an answer with my response to the last question. But let me also say that this is one of the most pleasurable aspects of writing for me—the construction of lives and histories. The process of imagining them so deeply as to feel I actually know these other people, these other stories. A way of escaping myself, I suppose.

Q: You teach English at Smith College. What is the best advice you give to aspiring writers?
A: Read.

Q: Tell us a little about your writing process--how you write, when, etc.?
A: I make a lot of notes before I write. I want to know what I’m doing. Where I’m going. I want to feel that I’m working on a whole thing, the idea for which I have clear in my mind--the way perhaps an architect would know what he wanted to do without knowing every detail of it from the start; or a composer might know what he wanted a piece of music to do, the way he wanted it to move, without knowing all the themes in it.

I write in longhand for the first draft, typing it in when I feel ready to work on revision. Sometime that’s a small piece--a chapter--sometimes a longer chunk of the book. I type it in, pull it out and write all over it again in longhand, type it in again, pull it out, etc. etc.

I try to write in the morning, before I get enmeshed in the demands of daily life--though those are all easier now that I don’t have responsibility for a child. Towards the end of a book, I write longer days.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’ve signed a contract with Knopf for a new novel I’ve described to them, so I’ll be working on that for a few years. I’d like to try, anyway, to write Billy’s play--"The Lake Shore Limited." And I have a two-year-old granddaughter I’d like to spend as much time with as I can.

From Publishers Weekly

Four people are bound together by the 9/11 death of a man in Miller's insightful latest. Leslie, older sister and stand-in mother to the late Gus, clings to the notion that Gus had found true love with his girlfriend, Billy, before he was killed. But the truth is more complicated: Billy, a playwright, has written a new play that explores the agonizing hours when a family gathers, not knowing the fate of their mother and wife who was aboard a train that has been bombed. The ambivalent reaction of the woman's husband has shades of Billy and Gus's relationship, particularly the limbo she's been in since he died. Rafe, the actor playing the ambivalent husband, processes his own grief and guilt about his terminally ill wife as he steps more and more into his character. Finally, there's Sam, an old friend Leslie now hopes to set up with Billy. While the plot doesn't have the suspense and zip of The Senator's Wife, Miller's take on post-9/11 America is fascinating and perfectly balanced with her writerly meditations on the destructiveness of trauma and loss, and the creation and experience of art. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

I look forward to reading more Miller.
Alan L. Chase
To be honest, I found the writing cold, the characters not very well developed, and the plot boring at times.
Joan W. Johnson
It is an interesting story line and the characters are well fleshed out.
Gramma Sally

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Holly TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I read "The Good Mother" years ago and haven't read anything by Sue Miller since that time. Based upon my experience with this novel, I need to go back and read what she has written in between that first novel and this latest one.

In "The Lake Shore Limited", the story is told from the point of view of four main characters. First we have Billy who is a playwright originally from Chicago. There is Leslie, the much older sister of Gus who is the man Billy lived with in Boston and Sam, who is a friend and neighbor of Leslie's. Finally, we have Rafe, the man playing the lead role in the play Billy has written about a man waiting to find out if his wife was on a train that was hit by a terrorist attack. All their stories become interwoven and the reader is allowed to come to know each one of them intimately and what their individual hurts and wounds are.

A beautifully written character study of mature adults (as it relates to age) who are reflecting back upon their lives and revisiting their life paths. How did they end up in the relationships they are in? What do they wish they had done differently over the years? What do they want from this point on? This is not an action-packed or quick, easy novel but one that should be savored along the way. For the older reader who has the perspective of time, this will definitely strike a chord. While sometimes these types of books can feel like navel-gazing, this one manages to be introspective without wallowing. It's more of an honest reflection of what is good and bad without much filter.

If you enjoy Elizabeth Berg, Anne Tyler, and Anna Quindlen, this novel would be a good one to try.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mary Lee Moser on May 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Other reviewers have described the play-within-a-play feature of the plot, which I enjoyed. All in all, I found this book to be engrossing, well-paced, and beautifully written, as I found other Sue Miller books to be. (I personally find it so jarring to see "leisurely" used as an adverb, but I know it's accepted now...)I finished it in 2 days, and am on my way to drop it into a book-loving friend's mailbox. I think Miller presented the 9/11 aspect well, which many writers have failed to do, and I believe a message of the book was this: How DO we use our tragedies and traumas to move our lives forward; how do we transform such events into our own art, into a life fully-lived? By the skillful way she explores all the main characters' actions and interactions, she intriguingly begins to answer these questions. I know some reviewers didn't "like" the characters; I liked them all. I'd love to see a sequel in which Leslie, Rafe, Billy, and/or Sam are featured. All their stories were touching and real to me. One other small complaint: the generic-looking cover art. (If it was supposed to be Billy and Reuben, the proportions were way off!) Mary Lee Moser, author,There and Back: A Journal Companion for Special Needs Parents
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Laurel-Rain Snow "Rain" TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Four lives, connected in some way by an event that changed the world, now continue to intersect over the years afterwards.

Leslie, Billy, Sam, and Rafe--their lives are forever altered.

Leslie is comfortably married to Pierce, but her loving connection to her brother Gus is a truly nurturing relationship. Childless, she has become almost like a mother to Gus, since she is fifteen years older.

Billy, a playwright, was Gus's live-in lover on that fateful day when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers. What nobody knows is that she had already decided to leave Gus, so when he dies as a passenger in one of the planes, she feels like a fraud as she grieves for him.

Sam, an architect, who bought property when Leslie was selling real estate many years before, is now divorced; his first wife had died years before and his children, somewhat distant from him, are grown. Sam has harbored feelings for Leslie for many years.

Rafe, whose wife suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease, is an actor. He is one of the stars in Billy's newest play, called "The Lake Shore Limited"--a play about a terrorist act on a train that leaves people waiting for news of their loved ones, just as many did after 9/11.

These characters all connect at the beginning of Billy's play, and then for weeks and months afterwards, in various ways.

As the story unfolds, we get to view the interior lives of these characters, as sections are devoted to each one in turn. We see what motivates them, what they're worried about, and what they fear. Their worlds are truly explored and we come to know and understand them. Even empathize with them, despite some of their choices.
Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Y. Scott VINE VOICE on May 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a story of 4 people who are bound together by the 9/11 tragedy.
Leslie lost her younger brother Gus whom she loved as if he was her son. Her grief made her overly compassionate to Gus's surviving girlfriend Billy. Billy, however has a secret survivor guilt. She no longer loved Gus, but he was killed before Billy could tell him. Billy, a playwright, has written a new play, and Leslie comes to see the play planning to introduce her friend Sam to Billy. Her intention is to give Billy a permission to love someone else. Leslie is shocked when she saw Billy's play because it reveals something about their relationship. Rafe, the actor who plays the main character of Billy's play has his own tragedy at home. And Sam has his own loss, too.

You may not like The Lake Shore Limited if you need likable characters. There's also no suspense. However, her writing is superb and her character study is as good as usual. This book is not Miller's best, but still a compelling read.
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