Tuesday, December 30, 2008
The World Below
Sue Miller's The World Below tells the story of Cath Hubbard, a twice divorced mother of grown children who takes a sabbatical at the home in small town Vermont that she inherited from her grandmother, Georgia Rice, and where she spent large chunks of her early life. She comes across Georgia's diaries in the attic and reading them forces her to revise her long-held opinions about her grandmother's marriage and her own troubled relationship history.
There is an interplay between the past and present that appeals to me. In that way and in its description of a woman of a certain age who delves into her family history it resembles the last book I read, Alice Munro's The View From Castle Rock.
The title comes from a submerged village Cath fleetingly glimpsed at the bottom of a reservoir when fishing with her grandfather as a child.
Georgia Rice had a heavy load to bear at a tender age, raising her younger siblings and keeping house for her father after her mother died of cancer. The family physician, fearing for her health and well-being, had her admitted to a sanitorium for tuberculars. Her time there changed her life. She later married the much older family physician, a union that Cath has always viewed as idyllic. Reading the diaries makes her realize that relationships are not always as they appear on the surface and there is much that lies beneath. Her grandparents' marriage survives subterranean quakes. Cath's marriages don't.
In the final analysis The World Below is not a terribly substantial book but the parallel stories of Georgia and Cath are interestingly told and the writing is quite beautiful.