Synopses & Reviews
From one of America's best-loved novelists an unforgettable tale of a family breaking apart and coming together again, set in the vineyards of Northern California.
Eva, a divorced and happily remarried mother of three, runs a small bookstore in a town north of San Francisco. When her second husband, John, is killed in a car accident, her family's fragile peace is once again overtaken by loss. For Daisy, the middle child, John's absence opens up a world of bewilderment, exposing her at the onset of adolescence to the chaos and instability that hover just beyond the safety of parental love, and to the powerlessness of that love to protect or even to console. In her sorrow, Daisy embarks on a harrowing sexual odyssey with a much older man, a journey that will cast her even further out onto the harsh promontory of adulthood and lost hope.
Lost in the Forest is an intensely sensual voyage into the consuming realms of grief and sex, and a gorgeously layered testament to the fluidity of family life. A hymn to marriage, and to adolescent yearning, this is Sue Miller at her inimitable best.
"Bestseller Miller (The Good Mother; While I Was Gone; etc.) examines love and betrayal in idyllic wine country in another minutely observed, finely paced exploration of domestic relationships. Idealistic California converts Eva and Mark had a solid marriage until Mark's affair; 'bumps in matrimony' is what one of Eva's friends, Gracie, calls such difficulties, and as Miller presents them it's not a question of whether they'll appear but how to deal with them when they do. Some years later, Mark and Eva's two adolescent daughters, Emily and Daisy, are living with Eva and her second husband, John, and their young son, Theo. After John's death in a freak accident, Mark rescues the children from their mother's anguish and, in the process, realizes he is still in love with her. John's death becomes the focus of an elegant and careful investigation of loss loss of love, loss of innocence and the conflicts between men and women, parents and children, friends and lovers. As Eva grieves and Mark acknowledges his feelings for her, their quiet younger daughter, 15-year-old Daisy (who 'had loved [John] the best!'), enters into an affair with an older man. The backdrop of California vineyards is ideal for the growth and life-cycle themes that Miller so carefully cultivates. As Daisy tries her first glass of wine, has her first taste of sex and experiments with her sense of power and voice, she develops into the heroine of the tale one of the next generation of women learning to navigate the complex familiar waters of love and domesticity. Agent, Maxine Groffsky. 150,000 first printing; 11-city author tour. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Whether...relationships are made up of romantic attachments or the bonds that connect parents and children, Miller knows exactly how to corral their turbulent emotions and complex revelations into a fluid, compelling story of everyday life....[Q]uietly accomplished." Chicago Sun-Times
"Miller at her best: engrossing characters and a plot that turns unexpected corners." Kirkus Reviews
"In her riveting new novel, Miller once again demonstrates her singular gift for capturing the rhythms of daily family life with laserlike clarity while also summoning the turbulent emotions swirling just beneath the surface." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Sue Miller has a uniquely American voice, and few women have ever written better about families....Daisy's descent...is so harrowing that I literally had to put the book aside on a couple of occasions. You can call it family drama if you want to; the proper name for this stuff is probably nitro." Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly
"[I]f at first [Miller's] new novel seems to revisit an overly familiar story, she quickly offers proof that it will be in her own distinctive style that it will, in fact, be one of her strongest, most satisfying books." Kathryn Harrison, the New York Times Book Review
From one of America's best-loved novelists comes an unforgettable tale of a family breaking apart and coming together again, set in the vineyards of Northern California. A hymn to marriage, and to adolescent yearning, this is Sue Miller at her inimitable best.
For nearly two decades, since the publication of her iconic first novel, The Good Mother, Sue Miller has distinguished herself as one of our most elegant and widely celebrated chroniclers of family life, with a singular gift for laying bare the interior lives of her characters. In each of her novels, Miller has written with exquisite precision about the experience of grace in daily life-the sudden, epiphanic recognition of the extraordinary amid the ordinary-as well as the sharp and unexpected motions of the human heart away from it, toward an unruly netherworld of upheaval and desire. But never before have Miller's powers been keener or more transfixing than they are in Lost in the Forest, a novel set in the vineyards of Northern California that tells the story of a young girl who, in the wake of a tragic accident, seeks solace in a damaging love affair with a much older man.
Eva, a divorced and happily remarried mother of three, runs a small bookstore in a town north of San Francisco. When her second husband, John, is killed in a car accident, her family's fragile peace is once again overtaken by loss. Emily, the eldest, must grapple with newfound independence and responsibility. Theo, the youngest, can only begin to fathom his father's death. But for Daisy, the middle child, John's absence opens up a world of bewilderment, exposing her at the onset of adolescence to the chaos and instability that hover just beyond the safety of parental love. In her sorrow, Daisy embarks on a harrowing sexual odyssey, a journey that will cast her even farther out onto the harsh promontory of adulthood and lost hope.
With astonishing sensuality and immediacy, Lost in the Forest moves through the most intimate realms of domestic life, from grief and sex to adolescence and marriage. It is a stunning, kaleidoscopic evocation of a family in crisis, written with delicacy and masterful care. For her lifelong fans and those just discovering Sue Miller for the first time, here is a rich and gorgeously layered tale of a family breaking apart and coming back together again: Sue Miller at her inimitable best.
About the Author
Sue Miller is the best-selling author of the novels 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.
Reading Group Guide
1. In the opening chapter, how does Miller set up the complex family relationship, as well as the ambivalent emotions that her main characters feel for one another? What do we learn about Eva, Mark, and John? What emotions does Johns death bring up for Mark?
2. Readers get to know John only after his death, through the thoughts and memories of other characters. What kind of a man was he? Why, having lost John, does Eva find herself in a state of grief beyond her control, having feelings deeper than any shes ever experienced?
3. Is John a better father than Mark (215)? Why has John been able to connect with Daisy, a difficult child, so easily, and how did he earn her love (p. 5156)? Does Daisys interest in Sylvia Plaths poem “Daddy” (pp. 12123) indicate that she feels betrayed by Mark?
4. John dies just as Daisy is entering adolescence and becoming acutely aware of sex (p. 57). Does Miller suggest that a strong connection exists between grief and sexual desire? What are the circumstances that make Daisy vulnerable to Duncans advances?
5. What kind of a man is Duncan, and what perspective does the narrative take on him? How does the reader experience him? Why does Gracie not seem to know about the pedophilic aspect of Duncans character? When Gracie realizes that Duncan is having an affair, what is her response, and how does it differ from Evas response to Marks infidelity (pp. 20810, pp. 4143)?
6. In what ways is Eva–to use the title of an earlier Miller novel–a “good mother”? How strong a character is she, and how vulnerable? What ideas and values guide her approach to mothering? Is there any way for her to help Daisy more than she does?
7. Evas elder daughter Emily seems oddly untouched by the crisis her family goes through during the novel. Is this due to her age (she is about to go off to college), her beauty and self-confidence, or some other reason? Is it mainly a matter of timing or one of temperament that leads to the two stepdaughters very different reactions to Johns death?
8. For a while, Daisy feels good about her affair with Duncan: “She felt he offered her a new version of herself, one she more and more carried with her into her real life. She felt uplifted, in a sense; she felt an elevation over the daily ugliness of high school. She was less afraid, less shy. . . . And she loved the strange sex, which asked so little of her” (p. 156). How is this relationship different from one that Daisy might have had with a boy her own age? Why is it more dangerous? Do the positive aspects of this affair offset the moral failing that it reveals in Duncan?
9. Eva was drawn to John only slowly, “by the persistence and intelligence of his interest in her” (p. 78). How does this differ from her love for Mark? Is it surprising or disappointing that Eva chooses not to become involved with Mark again? Given the readers access to Marks thoughts about Eva, does Eva seem to be right or wrong in her belief that Mark is “unable to be faithful” (p. 137)?
10. Comment on the narrative voice used in the novel: Does it give us equal access to the thoughts of all characters equally? Which characters do we get to know best? What adjectives best describe Millers prose style?
11. Given the story told to Theo by the members of his family (pp. 3033; pp. 231-32) and the way Daisy looks back on Marks role in ending her relationship with Duncan (pp. 24245), discuss the various implications of the novels title. Which characters are “lost in the forest,” and how do they manage to find a way out?
12. Sue Miller has said that in the most enduring fiction–like Tolstoys War and Peace–“you realize that everything comes back to the hearth. Yes, there was war, but the main focus was domestic: Who gathered around the hearth? Why were they there? What had they experienced? What stories did they tell?”* How does this idea work in Lost in the Forest? Is nurturing the idea of the hearth Evas most essential and valued role? What does Miller suggest about the nature of familial bonds in our changing society?
13. How do the details of the Northern California setting establish the cultural landscape of the story? Are the rapid growth of the vineyard business and the changing nature of little towns like Saint Helena important to the story? What is the function of references to historical events, like the fatwah against Salman Rushdie and Noriegas surrender in Panama (p.139, p. 206)? How does Miller handle the passage of time in the novel?
14. Sue Millers protagonists have mainly been women, and her novels have mainly focused on womens lives. When Eva gets older, “Shes wondering, perhaps, if her story makes sense, if it means anything, or amounts to anything” (p. 230). How does this novel address such questions, and what answers, if any, does it offer?
15. Discuss the conversation that Mark has with Daisy when he realizes shes been sleeping with Duncan (pp. 219-28). How does his suggestion that she come and live with him redeem his earlier failings as a father and husband? Why does he promise Daisy that he wont tell Eva about Duncan?
16. Years later, in therapy with Dr. Gerard, how does Daisy work through the aftermath and the personal meanings of her relationship with Duncan? How damaging has it been? At the end of the novel, how do Daisys thoughts about her role as Miranda in Shakespeares The Tempest reflect the person she has become (p. 239, p. 247)?
17. Sue Miller has pointed out, “We live outside the world of religion yet with a diminishing awareness of its great importance.”* In Lost in the Forest, Eva realizes “that maybe some of her problem was that she didnt believe in anything” (p. 76). As a self-consciously modern and intellectual parent, she has raised her children without the notion of God, yet throughout the novel she questions whether this has been a good decision. Does Evas belief in parties and celebrations constitute a sort of contemporary version of faith? Does Evas embrace of traditional religion at the end of the novel come as a surprise, or not (p. 234)?
* Quotes are taken from an interview with the author at http://www.bookpage.com/9902bp/sue_miller.html
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested reading list that follow are designed to enhance your groups reading of Sue Millers Lost in the Forest. We hope they will provide useful ways of thinking and talking about a new book from an author who has distinguished herself as one of our most widely celebrated writers about the truest, deepest undercurrents in family life.