For Love

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With insight and intelligence, Sue Miller explores the intricates of family and love

Lottie Gardner, her brother, Cameron, and their childhood friend Elizabeth have all come together in their hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts, after years of separation. Lottie is barraged with memories of the past as she packs up her mother's house and witnesses the rekindling of an old romance between Cameron and Elizabeth. When a senseless tragedy intrudes upon them, Lottie is forced to ...

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With insight and intelligence, Sue Miller explores the intricates of family and love

Lottie Gardner, her brother, Cameron, and their childhood friend Elizabeth have all come together in their hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts, after years of separation. Lottie is barraged with memories of the past as she packs up her mother's house and witnesses the rekindling of an old romance between Cameron and Elizabeth. When a senseless tragedy intrudes upon them, Lottie is forced to examine the consequences of what she has done for love.

Written with great humanity and intelligence, this New York Times bestseller from the author of The Good Mother and Family Pictures is a novel that explores the intricacies of family and love. A brother, sister, and childhood friend come together in Massachusetts after years of separation and are faced with the consequences of the past.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Here, the author of Family Pictures (1990), etc., graces us with nothing less than a disputation on the nature of love—from whence, at least in Miller's world, all other emotions (and a great deal of often extreme behavior) come. This time out, her extraordinarily intelligent, if agonized, protagonist is Charlotte Reed, a nonfiction writer and divorc‚e with a grown son, Ryan, and new husband, Jack, a widowed oncologist. But as the story begins, Charlotte's left Jack, presumably to get her aging mother's Cambridge home in shape to be sold—since her brother, Cam, has put their mother in a home. Charlotte's other reason for flying the coop is that she doesn't think she can hack the new marriage: Jack's teenaged daughter is a pain, and Jack himself seems unable to stop grieving for his first wife. And her real reason, she comes to understand, has to do with being afraid that she doesn't love Jack the way she used to. She yearns for a kind of wild, romantic love, and sees it in the way her brother behaves with his new flame, Elizabeth, a neighbor in Cambridge. Elizabeth has returned home because her husband is playing around. She starts doing so, too, with Cam, though for him the relationship is less a fling than an expression of his unbalanced approach to life. Tragedy strikes in the form of an accident that kills Elizabeth's au pair girl, with Cam behind the wheel. Her death sets Charlotte off on an intense emotional hegira, which eventually leads her back to Jack and a different kind of love—a love that has as much loss in it as passion. Seared by several extraordinary arguments—between Lottie and Cam and others—and by a handful of characterizations so fullthat they suggest whole novels revolving around Miller's secondaries. Miller's special brand of intelligent emotionalism reaches its zenith here: it's deep, resonant, splendid. (Book-of-the-Month Main Selection for April)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060929992
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 631,352
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Sue Miller is the bestselling author of While I Was Gone, The Distinguished Guest, For Love, Family Pictures, Inventing the Abbotts, and The Good Mother. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Since her iconic first novel, The Good Mother in 1986, 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.

While not strictly speaking autobiographical, Miller's fiction is, nonetheless, shaped by her experiences. Born into an academic and ecclesiastical family, she grew up in Chicago's Hyde Park and went to college at Harvard. She was married at 20 and held down a series of odd jobs until her son Ben was born in 1968. She separated from her first husband in 1971, subsequently divorced, and for 13 years was a single parent in Cambridge, Massachusetts, working in day care, taking in roomers, and writing whenever she could.

In these early years, Miller's productivity was directly proportional to her ability to win grants and fellowships. An endowment in 1979 allowed her to enroll in the Creative Writing Program at Boston University. A few of her stories were accepted for publication, and she began teaching in the Boston area. Two additional grants in the 1980s enabled her to concentrate on writing fulltime. Published in 1986, her first novel became an international bestseller.

Since then, success has followed success. Two of Miller's books (The Good Mother and Inventing the Abbots) have been made into feature films; her 1990 novel Family Pictures was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award; Oprah Winfrey selected While I Was Gone for her popular Book Club; and in 2004, a first foray into nonfiction -- the poignant, intensely personal memoir The Story of My Father -- was widely praised for its narrative eloquence and character dramatization.

Miller is a distinguished practitioner of "domestic fiction," a time-honored genre stretching back to Jane Austen, Henry James, and Leo Tolstoy and honed to perfection by such modern literary luminaries as John Updike, Flannery O'Connor, and Richard Ford. A careful observer of quotidian detail, she stretches her novels across the canvas of home and hearth, creating extraordinary stories out of the quiet intimacies of marriage, family, and friendship. In an article written for the New York Times "Writers on Writing" series, she explains: "For me everyday life in the hands of a fine writer seems ... charged with meaning. When I write, I want to bring a sense of that charge, that meaning, to what may fairly be called the domestic."

Good To Know

Here are some fascinating outtakes from our interview with Sue Miller:
  • "I come from a long line of clergy. My father was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian church, though as I grew up, he was primarily an academic at several seminaries -- the University of Chicago, and then Princeton. Both my grandfathers were also ministers, and their fathers too. It goes back farther than that in a more sporadic way."

  • "I spent a year working as a cocktail waitress in a seedy bar just outside New Haven, Connecticut. Think high heels, mesh tights, and the concentrated smell of nicotine. Think of the possible connections of this fact to the first fact, above."

  • "I like northern California, where we've had a second home we're selling -- it's just too far away from Boston. I've had a garden there that has been a delight to create, as the plants are so different from those in New England, which is where I've done most of my gardening. I had to read up on them. I studied Italian gardens too -- the weather is very Mediterranean. I like weeding -- it's almost a form of meditation."

  • "I like little children. I loved working in daycare and talking to kids, learning how they form their ideas about the world's workings -- always intriguing, often funny. I try to have little children in my life, always."

  • "I want to make time to take piano lessons again. I did it for a while as an adult and enjoyed it.

  • "I like to cook and to have people over. I love talking with people over good food and wine. Conversation -- it's one of life's deepest pleasures."
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      1. Hometown:
        Boston, Massachusetts
      1. Date of Birth:
        November 29, 1943
      2. Place of Birth:
        Chicago, Illinois
      1. Education:
        B.A., Radcliffe College, 1964; M.A.T., Wesleyan U., 1965; Ed.M., Harvard U., 1975; M.A. Boston U., 1980

    Read an Excerpt

    Down the street, at the unfashionable end of the block, where the houses are suddenly smaller and clustered close together on their narrow rectangular plots, Lottie hears the honking; but she pays no real attention to it. She has opened some of the windows, earlier, when it started to rain again, in order to feed her mood on the steady disconsolate noise, and that's what she's busy listening to. That, and the radio. The jazz station is featuring Billie Holiday with one suicidally masochistic song after another, and Lottie is singing along. She's had too much to drink too, as it happens and she's taken up with one of those mindless tasks that leave you feeling empty-headed while you, are also utterly absorbed, in a kind of pseudo thought: she's hauled all the pieces of kitchen equipment out from her mother's nicked and battered cabinets, all the old dented, unmatched pots and pans and cookie tins and dishes, and she's sitting among them on the worn linoleum, trying to decide which is worth keeping-for herself other brother, Cameron, or the Salvation Army-and which should be thrown away.

    She's an odd sight, though there's no one there to look at her—a small, slender, middle-aged woman with a mass of curling dark hair just beginning to be peppered with white, sitting on the floor of the shabby kitchen in the. cold fluorescent light of the circular overhead fixture. Her legs and bare feet are sticking straight out from under the very expensive gray satin, night gown her husband gave her as a wedding present. One by one she lifts the worn and obsolete utensils, gazes at each with frowning, drunken concern, and then places it carefully in. what she has concluded is theappropriate pile.

    This is part of her job for the summer, assigned to her by Cameron and willingly accepted. They're getting the mother's house ready to sell. Cameron had to put the old woman in a nursing home the winter before. She'd gotten more and more creepy and dotty as she moved into old age, and it was clear he had no choice when she was found for the second time meandering on Mass Ave. wearing only a slip and her frayed pink mules.

    At first he and Lottie had agreed to try to hold on to the house for a while; the Mortgage had been paid off years earlier, and there were roomers living in it. Who provided a little income each month. But through the spring, Cameron—the one who lives in Boston, the one who has to do everything—has found it more trouble than it's worth. Two of the roomers began to complain that the third had a woman living with him now but wasn't paying any more rent. This wasn't fair, and they wanted something done about it. Many urgent messages about this accumulated on Cameron's answering machine. Then the toilet in the second-floor, bathroom sprang a leak. By the time anyone noticed or called Cameron, the ceiling below was stained and, puckered and had to be fixed.

    What's more, the nursing home he's found for their mother is expensive, too expensive, really. He called Lottie a few months earlier in Chicago and suggested maybe it was, time to, sell the, house. Prices in Cambridge, even for houses in the kind of shape their mother's is in, have skyrocketed over the past few years, and he told her he thought they, might, get enough for I it so. that, the interest would pay the nursing home fees. By phone Lottie agreed. And: she agreed to come and take charge of clearing their mother's things out over the summer. He could have; asked her to do almost, anything, and she, would have agreed. Lottie hasn't, had much to do with her mother since she was in her mid-twenties, and she's guiltily aware that it's Cameron's inexplicable loyalty to the old woman that has made this possible.

    The fact is though, that Lottie could do this particular chore any time. Tomorrow, the next day; the rest of her life. "Love is just like a faucet," she sings with the radio. "It turns off and on." Oh, isn't it true. The reason she's doing it, tonight, sorting through utensils and dishes and drinking and singing is in order to avoid thinking about just that, about the rest of her life. Her, marriage, barely begun, is in trouble. Is over, is what she thinks. "It seems to me we have decided," she says aloud now. And then she sets the rusted eggbeater in the pile of things to be thrown out. She sips from a little jelly jar filled with White wine. She sets it back down on the floor and then listens a moment as the driven rain splashes and drips outside the rusted screens—and in the distance, car honks and honks. "It seems to me I have decided," she corrects herself: her head nods in a schoolmarm's exaggerated insistence on precision, her hand rises and rests on her bosom.

    She hadn't meant to get drunk. It was the I chance result of her long, odd day At a little after one o'clock, hours before Cameron made, his drive across the city through the rainy dark, she was sitting with her son, Ryan, at the kitchen table, eating the pasta salad she'd fixed them for lunch, when she felt a portion of one of her back teeth-an artificial portion it would turn out—gently slide away from the rest of it. This has happened to her sometimes in nightmares, this and hair loss by the handful, and she had an instant sense of mortal foreboding. "Damn it!" she said out loud. She began to shift the food around in her mouth With her tongue selectively and carefully swallowing until she could extract the renegade piece.

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