Maine, 1919. Georgia Rice, who has cared for her father and two siblings since her mother’s death, is diagnosed, at nineteen, with tuberculosis and sent away to a sanitarium. Freed from the burdens of caretaking, she discovers a nearly lost world of youth and possibility, and meets the doomed young man who will become her lover.
Vermont, the present. On the heels of a divorce, Catherine Hubbard, Georgia’s granddaughter, takes up residence in Georgia’s old house. Sorting through her own affairs, Cath stumbles upon the true story of Georgia’s life and marriage, and of the misunderstanding upon which she built a lasting love.
With the tales of these two women–one a country doctor’s wife with a haunting past, the other a twice-divorced San Francisco schoolteacher casting about at midlife for answers to her future–Miller offers us a novel of astonishing richness and emotional depth. Linked by bitter disappointments, compromise, and powerful grace, the lives of Georgia and Cath begin to seem remarkably similar, despite their distinctly different times: two young girls, generations apart, motherless at nearly the same age, thrust into early adulthood, struggling with confusing bonds of attachment and guilt; both of them in marriages that are not what they seem, forced to make choices that call into question the very nature of intimacy, faithfulness, betrayal, and love. Marvelously written, expertly told, The World Below captures the shadowy half-truths of the visible world, and the beauty and sorrow submerged beneath the surfaces of our lives–the lost world of the past, our lost hopes for the future. A tour de force from one of our most beloved storytellers.
“Vintage Miller: a quiet, subtle story of longing, loss, and the compensations that,
surprisingly, satisfy and endure.”
— Kirkus Reviews
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The last time I went to my grandmother’s, the time I went to stay, I was fifteen. My mother had managed it finally, her own death, and she’d done it well, I came to think when I was older, in that none of us had to find her.
My father gave me my choice, my freedom. I could stay with him, which he recognized might be rather a lonely life with my brother off at college now and his own work as a lawyer so consuming; or I could go to my grandparents’ and live with them for the two and a half years until I too began college. I made my decision with a dazzling speed and selfishness it takes my breath away to recall – though it was useful to keep in mind when my own children reached that age. I chose my grandparents, where I felt safe, where the air seemed lighter, clearer. Where people spoke to each other in seemingly harmless and transparent ways. And left my father to his solitary life.
I remember a moment from the spring of that first year I lived with them, four or five months after my mother died. I was lying on my bed in the attic, watching a sudden storm come up. The sky blackened, the birds stilled, the trees heaved and shuddered, showing the silvery undersides of their leaves. A wooden chair came skidding drunkenly across the yard, stopped, then hurried on. Suddenly my grandparents appeared in the yard below me, foreshortened and legless from my vantage – I could hear their voices before I saw them, and my grandmother’s laugh. They began to take the wildly flapping laundry off the line: the towels, the white sheets. They worked together quickly, with practiced skill, both holding a sheet, folding it, walked toward each other, away, then in again: the big white belling cloth first halved, then quartered and calmer, now disappearing to a compact bundle between them. They finished – they moved offstage – just before the sky ripped open with lightning and thunder nearly simultaneously, and the pelting of the fat drops began to accumulate to a dull roar on the roof above me.
But I had seen it – their quick mirroring dance, the arms lifting at the same time as they approached each other, lowering as they stepped back, the magic of the wild white cloth growing smaller and smaller between them on the dark grass – and what it looked like to me from my lonely perch above them was the purest form of love.