Sue Miller

Brief lives, a family epic, and an indelible adventure.

Beginning with The Good Mother, Sue Miller has built a career on novels about female protagonists whose comfortable lives are upended by the turbulence, passion, and ambivalence lurking beneath the surface of domestic complacency. Her recent novel, The Lake Shore Limited, addresses similar themes as a headstrong playwright watches her latest drama unfold on and off the stage. This week, Miller recommends an eclectic trio of books that share an attentiveness to the tragicomic variety of human experience.

Books by Sue Miller


The Outermost Dream: Literary Sketches

By William Maxwell

The Outermost Dream by William Maxwell is a delicious book, a series of short partial biographies of characters as diverse as E. B. White and Colette, as Eudora Welty and Lord Byron and Samuel Butler’s godawful father. Elegantly written by Maxwell in response to his reading of biographies, collected letters, memoirs, or diaries, these accounts of mostly literary lives are completely engaging on one level, probing and thought-provoking on another.”


A High Wind in Jamaica

By Richard Hughes

“Cross a wacky seafaring adventure–Conrad gone awry via inept piracy–with an exploration of the consciousness of a child as radical and insightful as that provided by Henry James in What Maisie Knew, and you have A High Wind In Jamaica by Richard Hughes. The tone is sui generis and always surprising–here lingering desultorily on the slow delights of a Caribbean childhood, there dispensing with the accidental death of a child in one short, shocking sentence. By turns funny, ironic, and brutally sad, this is a complex and astonishing novel.”


The Children’s Bach

By Helen Garner

The Children’s Bach by the Australian writer Helen Garner is a family saga told in 96 brilliant pages. There is real drama here–illness, infidelity, abandonment, despair–but almost none of it is explicit. Garner’s compressed, elliptical style brings us life as it’s lived in those small moments that by implication reveal the larger story. As a writer, I’m amazed by this book every time I read it. And that’s often.”