The Good Mother

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Recently divorced, Anna Dunlap had two passionate attachments: to her daughter, four-year-old Molly, and to her lover, Leo, the man who made her feel beautiful--and sexual--for the first time. They were a magical threesome--a little drunk on happiness and passion. Anna never expected the shocking charges that would threaten her new love, her new "family"...that would force her to prove she was a good mother..

Sue Miller's critically acclaimed bestseller, The Good ...

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Recently divorced, Anna Dunlap had two passionate attachments: to her daughter, four-year-old Molly, and to her lover, Leo, the man who made her feel beautiful--and sexual--for the first time. They were a magical threesome--a little drunk on happiness and passion. Anna never expected the shocking charges that would threaten her new love, her new "family"...that would force her to prove she was a good mother..

Sue Miller's critically acclaimed bestseller, The Good Mother, is now being reissued in trade paperback. This thought-provoking and powerful novel asks the question, "to whom is a woman more deeply bound -- the man she loves, or her own child?"

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Editorial Reviews

Linda Wolf
What makes the book truly remarkable is its of the great pleasures of The Good Mother comes...from the author's skilfull rendition of...the common questions of motherhood. I think virtually no one has done it better.
-- The New York Times Book Review
Michiko Kakutani
This powerful proves as subtle as it is dramatic, as durable -- in its emotional afterlife -- as it is instantly readable.
-- The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385312431
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/1/1994
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 8.04 (h) x 0.75 (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

    Chapter One

    The Post Office in East Shelton reminded me of the one in the little town near my grandparents' summer home in Maine. In the days of that vanished post office, when I was small, my grandfather was usually the one to drive in and pick up the mail each day; but he almost always took one of us cousins along to row him across the lake, the first leg of the trip -- even though at that stage he was still a strong man, a better rower than any of us. We vied for the privilege, the treat of a town visit. Now, as I watched my daughter mount the wooden steps in East Shelton and cross the long narrow front porch -- her sandals slapping the boards noisily, her small legs flashing as she ran ahead of me, eager to be first through the door -- remembered the deep pleasure of entering that other post office of long ago; the same array of brass-trimmed letter boxes, the same worn wooden floors, nicked counters; the same grille across the opening where, when you rang the bell, the postmistress would appear from the similarly mysterious bowels of her house. If memory served me, and wasn't being distorted by the push of the present, the postmistress here even looked like that other one. She was seventyish, skinny and stern, with gray hair and glasses and skin so white, so floury, you half expected her touch would leave powdery prints on the envelopes she slid towards you under the grille.

    Here my daughter would ask for the mail, because there was just our name to remember. In that other post office of my memory, after allowing me to ring the bell, my grandfather would greet the post mistress and then pronounce the three or four family names for whose members mailmight be waiting. It was the cousin's job, though, to distribute the mail after the long trip back to camp down the dirt road, across the lake.

    It would be lunchtime, the family gathered on the wide screened porch around several tables laden with dishes, food. The lucky mail carrier of the day made the rounds, reading aloud the names on the envelopes; and people with letters were expected to open them then and there and read relevant bits of their correspondence to the assembled group. It amazes me now to think of that strange innocent intimacy. Did none of those aunts or uncles or cousins have an illicit lover, a shady business partner, a possible secret? Apparently not. The letters, mostly to the women, were full of news of invitations, dinners, luncheons, marriages, deaths, births, gifts.

    When I pushed open the wooden screen door, the bell attached to its frame jingled faintly. Inside, the postmistress stood leaning forward behind her grille, listening to Molly. In her hands my daughter held a white envelope, but she didn't turn to me with it yet. She was telling the postmistress about the movie we were going to see. Though the old woman was unsmiling, Molly liked her. Her attention was absolute, and she'd given Molly several presents -- once a piece of hard candy, and another time a stack of change-of-address cards. She nodded to me as I approached the grille, and gestured to Molly to hand me my letter. Without interrupting her flow of conversation, Molly did. As soon as I really looked at the envelope, I knew it was about the divorce. There was something antiseptically formal about it, something which smacked of officialdom. I checked the return address quickly before I tucked the letter into my purse. Lloyd, Fine and Eagleston. Yes indeed.

    I was in no rush to open it. It couldn't be anything urgent, since our court date hadn't even been set yet. Molly and I talked with the postmistress for a while, and then set out on what was by now a routine series of adventures for the afternoon. I forgot all about the letter. We explored the playground on the town green and went to a grainy, light-struck version of Peter Pan, which Molly seemed to like, but slept through half of. It wasn't until I reached into my purse to put my keys away at the Tip Top Cafe that I remembered the letter. I got it out and set it on the table, thinking I might read it while Molly ate. But she was in a talkative mood, it turned out, and all through dinner the envelope lay next to my silverware, rectangular and white, like an extra napkin; and I listened to my daughter.

    She was kneeling on the patched maroon vinyl booth opposite me -- the crisscrosses of duct tape nearly matched its color -- playing with the little jukebox attached to the wall above us. When she turned the red plastic wheel on its top, the cards advertising the selections flipped around noisily, so many small revolving doors. She liked this, and was taking a long time to finish what was left of her meal. I didn't mind. Someone else in the Tip Top, someone with a penchant for country music, was feeding the jukebox, and I was enjoying its cheap emotionality. It reminded me of the music I had listened to in my teens -- full of the disasters of love and marriage, full of longing, of heartbreak and betrayal, accidental death. That's the way popular music had been in the late Fifties, early Sixties, before it got serious or political, or was allowed to be cynical about sex. And I had believed in that early cheap music, knowing nothing else about life. I had expected that these would be the consequences of love.

    "What's this song?" Molly asked, pointing to a title behind the bulging plastic case. I leaned over and looked past her small finger. Her hands and breath smelled of the French fries she was eating.

    "It's called 'In the Mood,'" I answered.

    The Good Mother. Copyright © by Sue Miller. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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    Customer Reviews

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    Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted August 6, 2004

      Sue Miller loves to make us blush...

      I have noticed in having read three of Sue Miller's novels that she likes to be honest with the reader...incredibly honest, and this book is no different. Good story, good descriptions, real characters.

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted March 6, 2004

      Exceptional, emotional, couldn't put down

      An intense book about love and loss. Sue Miller has written a wonderful story that doesn't end with the last page; thoughts of the characters continue long after the final sentence. Anna, the main character, is torn between being a mother, an individual, and a lover. Her situations and dialogue ring true for anyone who has ever loved and lost. I highly recommend this book!

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      Posted October 22, 2008

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      Posted August 13, 2010

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      Posted October 15, 2010

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      Posted March 19, 2009

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