Synopses & Reviews
Four unforgettable characters beckon you into this spellbinding new novel from Sue Miller, the author of 2008s heralded best seller The Senators Wife
. First among them is Wilhelmina—Billy—Gertz, small as a child, fiercely independent, powerfully committed to her work as a playwright. The story itself centers on The Lake Shore Limited
—a play Billy has written about an imagined terrorist bombing of that train as it pulls into Union Station in Chicago, and about a man waiting to hear the fate of his estranged wife, who is traveling on it. Billy had waited in just such a way on 9/11 to hear whether her lover, Gus, was on one of the planes used in the attack.
The novel moves from the snow-filled woods of Vermont to the rainy brick sidewalks of Boston as the lives of the other characters intersect and interweave with Billys: Leslie, Guss sister, still driven by grief years after her brothers death; Rafe, the actor who rises to greatness in a performance inspired by a night of incandescent lovemaking; and Sam, a man irresistibly drawn to Billy after he sees the play that so clearly displays the terrible conflicts and ambivalence of her situation.
How Billy has come to create the play out of these emotions, how it is then created anew on the stage, how the performance itself touches and changes the other characters lives—these form the thread that binds them all together and drives the novel compulsively forward.
A powerful love story; a mesmerizing tale of entanglements, connections, and inconsolable losses; a marvelous reflection on the meaning of grace and the uses of sorrow, in life and in art: The Lake Shore Limited is Sue Miller at her dazzling best.
"Four people are bound together by the 9/11 death of a man in Miller's insightful latest. Leslie, older sister and stand-in mother to the late Gus, clings to the notion that Gus had found true love with his girlfriend, Billy, before he was killed. But the truth is more complicated: Billy, a playwright, has written a new play that explores the agonizing hours when a family gathers, not knowing the fate of their mother and wife who was aboard a train that has been bombed. The ambivalent reaction of the woman's husband has shades of Billy and Gus's relationship, particularly the limbo she's been in since he died. Rafe, the actor playing the ambivalent husband, processes his own grief and guilt about his terminally ill wife as he steps more and more into his character. Finally, there's Sam, an old friend Leslie now hopes to set up with Billy. While the plot doesn't have the suspense and zip of The Senator's Wife, Miller's take on post-9/11 America is fascinating and perfectly balanced with her writerly meditations on the destructiveness of trauma and loss, and the creation and experience of art." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Four unforgettable characters beckon you into this spellbinding new novel from the author of last year’s explosive New York Times
best seller The Senator’s Wife.
First among them is Wilhelmina—Billy—Gertz, small as a child, fiercely independent, powerfully committed to her work as a playwright. The novel centers around her play, The Lake Shore Limited,
about the terrorist bombing of that train—and about a man waiting to hear the fate of his estranged wife who is traveling on it. How Billy comes to write the play out of her own painful conflicts and ambivalence, how it is then created anew by the actors and the director, how the performance itself touches and changes the other characters’ lives—these form the vital core of a story that drives the novel compulsively forward.
There’s not a wasted word in this tour de force about the dislocations wrought in our lives by accidents of fate and time, and about how we try to make peace with whom we become in the face of circumstances beyond our control.
Four unforgettable characters beckon readers into this spellbinding new novel from the author of the explosive "New York Times" bestseller "The Senator's Wife." Miller's latest is a tour de force about the dislocations wrought in our lives by accidents of fate and time, and about how we try to make peace with whom we become in the face of circumstances beyond our control.
About the Author
Sue Miller is the best-selling author of the novels The Senators Wife, Lost in the Forest, The World Below, While I Was Gone, The Distinguished Guest, For Love, Family Pictures, and The Good Mother; the story collection Inventing the Abbotts; and the memoir The Story of My Father. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of The Lake Shore Limited, bestselling author Sue Miller’s most satisfying and most ambitious novel yet.
1. Have you read any of Sue Miller’s other books? If so, does The Lake Shore Limited
share any themes?
2. What do we learn from the first sentence of this novel? Now that you know the character Leslie, what does it mean to you?
3. Who did you assume was the main character when you first started reading? Did you change your mind?
4. Do you consider this to be a 9/11 novel? Why?
5. On page 7, Leslie wonders, “But was [possibility] necessary? . . . Weren’t there people, everywhere, who lived without it? Who didn’t imagine anything other than what was?” Ultimately, which of the characters are open to possibility, and which aren’t?
6. Discuss the marriages in the novel. What do they have in common? In what ways are they different? Which seems healthiest to you?
7. On page 41, Leslie realizes that “she had been asking [Pierce] whether he would come with her into what she thought of as this new life—and that he was telling her no.” How does Leslie react to this? Why?
8. In the play, Gabriel says to Anita, “It’s what we all feel. We want. Then we want more. It’s the human condition” (page 44). Is this true for Leslie, Rafe, Billy, and Sam?
9. What do you think Miller is trying to say about the creation of art and its reflection of real life?
10. The notion of playing a role is a recurrent theme in the novel. Who is most true to his or her authentic self? Who has mastered his or her role? Whose changes most drastically?
11. Why is the Henry James reference in the play (page 45) so important? What was Billy trying to say?
12. When Rafe asks Billy if the play is based on her own life, she insists it isn’t autobiographical (page 77). Is she intentionally lying, or is there something else going on here?
13. Why does sleeping with Billy affect Rafe’s performance in the play?
14. Both Rafe and Sam see themselves in Gabriel. Which man do you think is more like him? Why?
15. What does Gus represent to Billy? To Leslie? What role does grief play in the novel?
16. Over the course of the novel, various characters note that Billy looks like a child. What does this signify?
17. Why do Sam and Leslie stop at just a kiss (page 188)? What do you think would have happened if they had had an affair?
18. What is the purpose of the scene between Sam and Jerry (pages 206–212)? How does it affect Sam?
19. Why is Billy so frosty when Sam brings his son to see the play (page 221)?
20. On page 232, Leslie thinks, “But that’s what the play was about. . . . At least in part. The wish to imagine what life could be, how it could change, if you were unencumbered.” What do you think the play was about? Which of the four main characters most wishes for an unencumbered life?
21. Reread the alternate endings Billy considered for the play (page 251). Why do you think she chose to end the play the way she did?
22. On page 267, Miller writes, “Now as Sam sits in his living room, holding the Christmas letter from Emma, thinking of Melanie Gruber, he realizes that he’s called her up in part because he feels the same way about Billy, about the accident of Billy’s arrival in his life—exactly that surprised.” Why does he feel this way? How does it change him?
23. Discuss the ending. Was it satisfying? What do you imagine happens next?
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)