I started listening to audio books when I was training for my half-marathons last winter and continued the habit during the many hours I spent driving my kids back and forth from school and baseball this spring. Now that it’s summer I’m doing less driving but still can’t resist listening to audio books. Here are some of the more recent books that have kept me company while I’m in the driver’s seat.
Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen
Miller’s Valley is doomed. Located in upstate Pennsylvania, this low-lying town floods so frequently that its residents, farmers mostly, have made accommodations. Anything of value is kept in the attic, and the noise of the sump pump is as familiar as the drone of a lawnmower, a steady, almost soothing background noise. Mary Margaret “Mimi” Miller is an old woman looking back at her life when the story begins. Born into the Miller family after which the town is named, Mimi is wise even at 11 years old. The farm has been in the family for 200 years but Quindlen sets the story in the 1960’s when farms are dwindling and the government is sending “relocation counselors” to Miller’s Valley in an effort to remove the townspeople from their homes so it can be flooded. In an interview with Diane Rhem, Quindlen says “It’s the ’60s and ’70s. Every small town in America is facing an end to its way of life, whether it’s going to be the main industry leaving, all of its young people moving elsewhere.”
What’s fascinating to me is that drowned towns exist across the country. Four towns disappeared when the Quabbin Reservoir was created between 1930 and 1939: Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott. The largest inland body of water in Massachusetts, the Quabbin is now the primary water supply for Boston and 40 other communities. Quindlen says she was inspired to write this story when she came across the story of the Tocks Island Dam Project, but that it was also modeled after the way Dickens combines two impulses: one is a social welfare issue and the other is “a very intimate down to the ground exploration of character.”
The audio book is 8 hours and is narrated by Brittany Pressley whose voice skillfully captures the varied characters so you forget you are listening and instead, you imagine yourself there in Miller’s Valley.
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
A coming-of-age story about Mary Frances “Frankie” Lombard who is fiercely in love with her family’s sprawling apple orchard and the tangled web of family members who inhabit it. Frankie jumps off the page with her earnest, passionate love for her family’s home and her refusal to imagine herself anywhere but there. Frankie’s family’s way of life is vanishing, and we follow as she navigates the winding path toward adulthood.