In Miller’s (Eyes at the Window, 2003) second novel, the tumultuous inner lives of the members of the Lehman family unfold during a memorable Thanksgiving weekend.
Carrie Lehman is at a crossroads after losing both her job and her boyfriend in Ohio, and she entertains the idea of returning to her roots by taking over the family farm in Wisconsin. This idea, however, isn’t what her strong-willed mother, Charlotte, had in mind for her daughter, nor is it how her taciturn father, James, imagined saving the financially strapped farm. Rounding out the family is Carrie’s callow teenage brother, Chad, and her grandmother Martha, still grieving the loss of her late husband as she guards her own longtime secret. Miller does an excellent job of showcasing the complicated motivations of these different characters. Although Carrie is the protagonist, the author uses multiple perspectives to allow readers into the minds of the other characters. It’s a device that mostly works, even if the transitions between perspectives are sometimes jarring. At some moments, the prose is deft and evocative; for example, Martha greets a Thanksgiving guest “cautiously, as if she went to high school with him but can’t remember his name.” At other times, it’s dense and heavy-handed, particularly when dealing with weighty topics such as death and religion; at one point, a visiting uncle reflects, “He’ll never understand what [his friend] went through. Something sacred out of the profane. He’ll never convince him that violence multiplies evil, that war is self-perpetuating.” The novel’s pace is a bit plodding, and intense discussions of faith drag the story down, making it feel at times like a morality play. The Mennonite faith and culture is an important frame of reference for all the characters, but readers may be confused when it’s brought up without sufficiently explaining its various customs and traditions. Yet, in the end, Miller excellently captures the microcosm of the Lehmans, using the Thanksgiving backdrop to illustrate their highest highs and lowest lows.
A flawed but heartfelt novel of family love and resilience.