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The World Below: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – April 26, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

There is nothing remarkable about the plot of Sue Miller's graceful novel, The World Below. Cath Hubbard, a San Francisco woman in her 50s, returns to her grandmother's small Vermont house after the death of an aunt who left the property to Cath and her brother Lawrence. Cath had lived with her grandparents for a few years in her teens, after her mother's suicide, and now makes her wounded way back, in the wake of a divorce, to sort through her memories of her beloved grandmother, Georgia. This is the standard fare of American literary fiction: a life change prompting a search into the past. What is far less ordinary is Miller's placid, nuanced depiction of her protagonist's emotional journey. None of Cath's feelings can be easily predicted by the reader, but all of them ring true. She finds her grandmother's diary and begins to fill in the stories that Georgia had hinted at over the years. What Cath discovers in her grandmother's journal is a secret that has lost its power to shock; and that very wearing away of taboo adds to the poignancy of Georgia's restricted life. Her story unfolds against a backdrop of Cath's more immediate griefs and concerns and begins to recede as Cath's San Francisco life returns to claim her. Miller's prose appears effortless, but is like the gestures of a magician that conceal how the trick is accomplished. The result is a sage, continually surprising novel about finding peace of mind in a combination of habit, love, and self-determination. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

While Miller's gorgeous new novel, her sixth, works graceful variations of her perennial theme - our intimate betrayals - it also explores new terrain for the author: just what we can know of the past and of its influence on us. At the heart of Miller's story are two women, 52-year-old Catherine Hubbard and Catherine's now-deceased grandmother, Georgia Rice Holbrooke. At first blush, Catherine and Georgia couldn't seem more different. Catherine is a twice-divorced San Francisco schoolteacher, while her grandmother was a faithful country doctor's wife. But as the novel progresses, parallels emerge - the early deaths of their mothers, for instance - and their lives come to seem more deeply entwined. As the novel opens, Catherine and her brother have just inherited Georgia's old house in Vermont, and it is up to Catherine to figure out what to do with it. Still shell-shocked from her second divorce, Catherine decides to give life in Vermont a try, and, once settled, she discovers diaries and account books her grandmother kept, books that allow Catherine to reconstruct her grandmother's life. What Catherine discovers is a world she never imagined beneath the placid surface of Georgia's life. While she knew that Georgia was sent to a sanatorium for tuberculosis, she did not know the "san" changed Georgia's life. As Catherine sorts through her grandmother's life, she also sorts through her own: her mother's death, her two marriages, her boyfriends and her children. As readers have come to expect, Miller limns contemporary life in deft, sure strokes, with an unerring ear for the way parents and children talk; no one can parse a modern marriage as well as she can. But in this novel Miller's special gift to readers is her rendering of Georgia's life, particularly the two love stories that mark it. Miller portrays the feverish period in the san - the intrigues, the romances, the very romance of taking a cure - vividly and sensuously. (Surely her research was rigorous.) Likewise, Miller captures the early, fragile years of Georgia's marriage with great poignancy, ever dividing our sympathies between Georgia and her husband. In the Holbrookes, Miller has created a marriage that survives despite its fault lines, a marriage that seems both modern and old-fashioned: recognizably fraught, yet enduring, the sort of marriage readers hunger to read about. Perhaps that's why this novel is so satisfying. Random House audio (ISBN 0-375-41993-4). (Oct.) Forecast: Miller's many, many (mostly female) fans will relish this dip into the past, released in a 200,000-copy first printing. A 20-city author tour, advertising on Oprah and word-of-mouth should attract plenty of new readers, too.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (April 26, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345481062
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345481061
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.9 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,018,911 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jan Roelofs on October 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I was lucky enough to get this book at the library before it hits the bestseller lists. I predict it will. I can also see it as a movie. Sue Miller explores the past and present, drawing parallels with the modern day Cath and her grandmother, Georgia. When Cath discovers her grandmother's diary, she is compelled to read it and fill in the blanks of her life. Learning from Georgia's past mistakes and also seeing how much alike their lives were, Cath comes to a deeper understanding of her own life. The allegorical submerged town under the lake illustrates poignantly the themes of the story. This well researched tale explores a part of history little known till now-the TB epidemic and life in the "sans". A compelling story, with many layers.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By MICHAEL ACUNA on November 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I suppose that many will take Sue Miller's "The World Below" as a quiet, subdued examination of the lives of two women: Georgia and her grand daughter, Catherine....and leave it at that. And unfortunately, except for some well written passages it is...just that. But having just read Leif Enger's "Peace like a River" and Joyce Carol Oates'"Middle Age," I can't let Miller off the hook so easily. What these two novels have that Miller's work doesn't is a point of view, a substantial world view that would give "The World Below" some pizazz, some oomph...something to take you beyond the bare bones of the storyline.
The basic story of "The World Below" is somewhat interesting: a woman, Catherine Hubbard, is willed her grandmother's house and she, needing a change of venue after two failed relationships , decides to visit this home in Vermont. While there, Catherine discovers a cache of her grandmother's journals. The novel then becomes the story of these two women and the narrative moves back and forth between these two lives. And this is a good thing because the "Georgia" portions of this novel are the most interesting and provocative as they relate Georgia's stay in a TB sanitarium and her subsequent marriage to her much older doctor and the problems inherent therein.
Miller can write beautifully when so inclined: "The thick flakes coming out of the dark at the windshield, the steady shuddering slap of the wipers, the vehicles looming ahead of me on the road--all this was hypnotic...the flakes landed silently on the car and melted with the engine's heat..light that fell into the yard and made the steadily falling snow seem thicker and heavier than it was.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By rebelmomof2 VINE VOICE on March 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful story between two women at different periods in time. The first one, Georgia was sent to a sanatorium for her TB and found love there. The second one, Kathy, her granddaughter, comes to find peace within her own life as she learns more about her grandmother's life. Kathy, the daughter of a woman who has committed suicide when Kathy was only 15, have searched for acceptance and love ever since. Her grandmother was the only one who could provide it. And Georgia full of secrets herself tried to pass on wisdom to her granddaughter.
It is a wonderfully written story ~~ one that is slow to move in the beginning but once you get immersed into the story, it does pick up. Georgia is an interesting woman taken away from the security of her home where she has been taking care of her sister, brother and father after her mother's death ~~ and began a long process to adulthood. She finds love twice and learned much from it. Kathy's story parallels her grandmother. She too lost her mother at about the same age Georgia did. And she has loved twice ~~ only to lose them through divorce. And she finds redemption in being a grandmother to a premature baby, Jessie, who fought for her life for months. In that fight, Kathy comes to realize that life is indeed a gift, no matter how bad the blows were dealt.
It is an interesting book ~~ one that I am glad to have won in a contest. It is not my favorite book of the year, but it is a really good read.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By C. Cohen on July 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found these two interweaving stories of Kath and her grandmother, Georgia, to be a compelling read that has stayed in my mind months after reading it for the first time. I'm now on my second reading (something I rarely do), and find it as amazing this time around as in my first encounter. What a deep, profound novel.
The reader must be patient. It's definitely a character driven book, not a plot-heavy pageturner. But once you immerse yourself in these wonderful characters from two different generations, you can't help but be drawn in deeply and feel as if you're getting to know "real people" as memorable and poignant as perhaps the secret stories woven into your own grandmother's past.
To me it is truly amazing the way that Cath was raised by her grandparents after her own disturbed mother's suicide. She always thought her grandparents had boring and quite ordinary lives. But what she discovers, through reading her grandmother's diaries, is that her grandmother, Georgia's marriage was much deeper, more filled with quiet conflict and inner struggle than she'd ever imagined possible! I won't spoil the story by revealing the secrets - but the heartwarming way that her grandparents solved some deep problems in their own relationship is a model for today's couples to follow. It was so heartwarming and inspiring.
Like many readers here, I've read both The World Below and While I Was Gone. They are quite different books, but I liked both. Sue Miller is now one of my very favorite authors. Bravo!!
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