Inventing the Abbotts and Other Stories

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Overview

Sue Miller's stories from a chapter in the moral history of our time

Like Sue Miller's bestselling novels, this collection of short stories explores the treacherously shifting ground of erotic and family relationships with deftness and depth. The title story is about a young man who takes up successively with three daughters of the most fashionable family in town. In other stories, whose characters range from a young girl in the first blush of sexual curiosity to a stricken ...

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Overview

Sue Miller's stories from a chapter in the moral history of our time

Like Sue Miller's bestselling novels, this collection of short stories explores the treacherously shifting ground of erotic and family relationships with deftness and depth. The title story is about a young man who takes up successively with three daughters of the most fashionable family in town. In other stories, whose characters range from a young girl in the first blush of sexual curiosity to a stricken dowager whose seizures release a brutal and sometimes obscene candor, Sue Miller presents a compelling gallery of contemporary men and women with hungry hearts and dismayed consciences.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this moving and articulate collection of 11 stories, the author of The Good Mother describes individuals trying, but failing, to connect emotionally in a society where ``all the rules have changed.'' PW praised Miller's ``insight into character and gift for describing contemporary relationships.'' (June)
Library Journal
This collection follows the author's impressive debut, The Good Mother ( LJ 5/15/86). In the title story a young man tells the absorbing tale of his elder brother's involvement with three sisters of small-town social prominence. Other stories also reflect Miller's intense preoccupation with the delicacy of relationships among parents, children, wives and husbands, the married and divorced, lovers. ``The Quality of Life'' depicts emotional complexities within a family marked by separations and rivalries. ``Tyler and Brina,'' ``Travel,'' and ``Expensive Gifts'' all concern the tentative dependence and isolation of women, their strengths, the needines of their men. Readers of Miller's novel will again appreciate her fastidiousness and clarity, her sobering vision of the moral dilemmas of modern middle-class life. Mary Soete, San Diego P.L., Cal.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060929978
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/8/1999
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.43 (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.

Biography

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."
  • Read More Show Less
      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

    Lloyd Abbott wasn't the richest man in our town, but he had, in his daughters, a vehicle for displaying his wealth that some of the richer men didn't have. And, more unusual in our midwestern community, he had the inclination to do so. And so, at least twice a year, passing by the Abbotts' house on the way to school, we boys would see the striped fabric of a tent stretched out over their grand backyard, and we'd know there was going to be another occasion for social anxiety. One of the Abbott girls was having a birthday, or graduating, or coming out, or going away to college. "Or getting her period," I said once to my brother, but he didn't like that. He didn't much like me at that time, either.

    By the time we'd return home at the end of the day, the tent would be up and workmen would be moving under the cheerful colors, setting up tables and chairs, arranging big pots of seasonal flowers. The Abbotts' house was on the main street in town, down four or five blocks from where the commercial section began, in an area of wide lawns and overarching elms. Now all those trees have been cut down because of Dutch elm disease and the area has an exposed, befuddled air. But then it was a grand promenade, nothing like our part of town, where the houses huddled close as if for company; and there probably weren't many people in town who didn't pass by the Abbotts' house once a day or so, on their way to the library for a book, or to Woolworth's for a ball of twine, or to the grocery store or the hardware store. And so everyone knew about and would openly discuss the parties, having to confess whether they'd been invited or not.

    My brother Jacey usually had been, and for that reasonwas made particularly miserable on those rare occasions when he wasn't. I was the age of the youngest daughter, Pamela, and so I was later to be added to the usual list. By the time I began to be invited to the events under the big top, I had witnessed enough of the agony which the whimsicality of the list cost my brother to resolve never to let it be that important to me. Often I just didn't go to something I'd been invited to, more than once without bothering to RSVP. And when I did go,. I refused to take it seriously. For instance, sometimes I didn't dress as the occasion required. At one of the earliest parties I attended, when I was about thirteen, I inked sideburns on my cheeks, imagining I looked like my hero of the moment-of several years actually Elvis Presley. When Jacey saw me, he tried to get my mother not to let me go unless I washed my face.

    "It'll look worse if I wash it," I said maliciously. "It's India ink. It'll turn gray. It'll look like dirt."

    My mother had been reading when we came in to ask her to adjudicate. She kept her finger in the book to mark her place the whole time we talked, and so I knew Jacey didn't have much of a chance. She was just waiting for us to leave.

    "What I don't understand, John," my mother said to Jacey—she was the only one who called him by his real name-"is why it should bother you if Doug wants to wear sideburns."

    "Mother," Jacey said. He was forever explaining life to her, and she never got it. "This isn't a costume party. No one else is going to be pretending to be someone else. He's supposed to just come in a jacket and tie and dance. And he isn't even wearing a tie."

    "And that bothers you?" she asked in her gentle, high-pitched voice.

    "Of course," he said.

    She thought for a moment. "Is it that you're ashamed of him?"

    This was hard for Jacey to answer. He knew by my mother's tone that he ought to be above such pettiness. Finally, he said, "It's not that I'm ashamed. I'm just trying to protect him. He's going to be sorry. He looks like such a jerk and he doesn't even know it. He doesn't understand the implications."

    There was a moment of silence while we all took this in. Then my mother turned to me. She said, "Do you understand, Doug, that you may be the only person at this party in artificial sidebums?"

    "Yeah," I answered. Jacey stirred restlessly, desperately. He could see where this was heading.

    "Do you understand, honey, that your sideburns don't look real?" Her voice was unwaveringly gentle, kind.

    Well, I had thought they might almost look real, and this news from someone as impartial as my mother was hard to take. But the stakes were high. I nodded. "Yeah," I said.

    She pressed it. "That they look, really, as though you'd drawn them on?"

    I swallowed and shrugged. "Yeah," I said again.

    She looked hard at me a moment. Then she turned to Jacey. "Well, darling," she said. "It appears he does understand. So you've really done all you can, and you'd better just go along and try to ignore him." She smiled, as though to try to get him to share a joke. "Just pretend you never saw him before in your life."

    Jacey was enraged. I could see he was trembling, but he had boxed himself in with his putative concern for my social welfare. I felt the thrill of knowing I was causing him deep pain.

    "Mother," he said, as though the word were a threat. "You don't understand anything." He left the room, slamming the door behind him.

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    Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted September 8, 2002

      love it up

      the best book i've ever read. a cobination of love, reality, and you'll never be able to put it down!

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    • Anonymous

      Posted November 15, 2001

      perfect stories

      i normally do not like reading short stories, so i was hesitant to pick this book up. i am so happy i went against my likings - these stories were enjoyable and easy reads. most short stories leave you questioning the end, these only leave a smile.

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