The Lake Shore Limited
Sue Miller’s latest piece of domestic realism scrutinizes the feelings of two men and two women, all of whom have reached an age at which choices have been made and doors have closed. The struggle to become is over; they must figure out how to live with themselves the way they are. This is Miller’s 9/11 novel—literally, in that the women lose a man who was brother to one, lover to the other, in a plane that hit the World Trade Center; and figuratively, in that the novel’s two male protagonists each suffer a grievous and grossly untimely loss through circumstances well beyond their control. Their responses to these events, of course, both reflect and form their characters, and Miller’s skill lies in inspecting evenhandedly every crumb of this nuanced and gradual process. Unfortunately, such impartial and thorough care, coupled with Miller’s flat prose, also results in stretches of tedium.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
In this charming and wistful novel about a family in disintegration, a young girl discovers to her distress that she can taste the emotions of those who prepare what she eats. Her first-person voice recalls the heroine’s in An Invisible Sign of My Own, Bender’s first novel; tentative but persistent, she studies her world with the curiosity and thoroughness of a scientist but records her observations with the eye and ear of a poet. She manages in the end to harness her exquisite, bizarre sensitivity, in this haunting examination of the ways in which people, driven by their own needs, can fail even those they most wish to nurture.