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Lost in the Forest

Lost in the Forest

3.5 18
by Sue Miller

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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


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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
What lifts these stories out of tabloid hell is Ms. Miller's keen psychological insight, her radar for emotional nuance, her visceral understanding of familial dynamics. While the melodramatic plot of Lost in the Forest lurches into view from time to time, Ms. Miller conceals its schematic awkwardness by focusing on the day-to-day experiences of her characters, using her understanding of the rhythms and daily vicissitudes of domestic life to create a powerful and poignant family portrait.
— The New York Times
Kathryn Harrison
You don't need to read a book with a title like Lost in the Forest to guess that Sue Miller will be using it to acquaint you with a wolf and a version of Red Riding Hood, a girl teetering on the dangerous cusp between childhood and adulthood, innocence and initiation. But if at first her 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. Miller has always been adept at rendering the complexities of family life, the way even well-intentioned, decent people can't walk across a room without wounding at least one person they love. But while some of her plots (that of While I Was Gone, for example) can be cluttered and occasionally clumsy, Lost in the Forest has a seemingly effortless grace; Miller quickly captures and never loses our attention.
— The New York Times Sunday Book Review
Richard Bausch
Sue Miller has been making it new now for a long time, and Lost in the Forest is a shining affirmation that her power only continues to grow.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
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 locus 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) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
When her stepfather dies, Daisy spins out of control-and into sexuality dangerous territory. With an 11-city tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In the latest from Miller (The World Below, 2001, etc.), a family member's death alters the established patterns and rhythms among those who survive. Eva's second husband, John, is killed by a car while on a walk with Eva and their three-year-old son, Theo. Eva, who runs a bookstore in California wine country, is understandably devastated. Temporarily unable to cope, she sends Theo and his half-sisters, popular high-school senior Emily and gawky 14-year-old Daisy, to their father, her ex-husband Mark, a winegrower. Mark and Eva's marriage, full of early passion, had ended when Mark, in a misguided attempt at intimacy, confessed an affair. Eva's marriage to the older, truly nice John had been calmer, but their love was genuine and deep. The children return to Eva's house after a few days, but as the months pass, Mark finds himself wooing Eva through the kids, including Theo, for whom he forms quite a lovely attachment. Miller tips the story's balance by flashing forward occasionally to the adult Daisy's conversations with her therapist. While her parents flirt and skirt around each other and Emily goes off to college, Daisy, who has always lived in Emily's shadow, is full of unexpressed depths of grief because John had been the one parent figure she felt really saw her for herself. When Duncan, the physically and emotionally damaged husband of Eva's best friend, catches her pilfering from the cash register at Eva's store, he insinuates himself into Daisy's life. Unaware of her own emerging beauty, Daisy is extremely needy and vulnerable-and extremely angry. A twisted sexual relationship begins. Eva is too wrapped up in her own struggles to notice, but Mark, whom Eva has rebuffed as suitor,steps in and rescues Daisy, who is one tough cookie. The family reshapes itself. Miller at her best: engrossing characters and a plot that turns unexpected corners.

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Emily telephoned, his older daughter. "Can you come get us?" she said. "It's an emergency."

As usual, she didn't greet him, she didn't say hello at the start of the call. And also as usual, this bothered him, he felt a familiar pull of irritation at her voice, her tone. But even as he was listening to her, he was focused on steering the truck around the sharp curves in the narrow road, around several small heaps of rock that had slid down the steep hillside: he was feeling the pleasure he always took in the way the slanted afternoon light played on the yellowed grass and reddened leaves left in the vineyards, in the way the air smelled. He kept his voice neutral as he responded. "When? Now?"

In the background, behind her, Mark could hear someone give a sudden whoop. Festivities, he thought. As ever. Eva's face rose in his mind--his ex-wife. At the least excuse, there was a gathering at her house: to celebrate a birthday--reasonable enough; but also for a project completed, a team victory, a skill accomplished. You learned to ride a bike, you got a party thrown for you.

"Duh. Yes, Dad, now," Emily said. "That's what I mean."

He was headed north on 128 to a small vineyard he thought his crew should harvest tomorrow. He needed to check the grapes. But he could probably get Angel to do it if he had to. His windows were open. The noise of the rushing air made his daughter's voice on the car phone sound distant.

"So?" she said. "Can you?"

If his younger daughter, Daisy, had ever called him because of an emergency, it would have been a child's crisis--not making the basketball team, needing a ride somewhere that her mother or stepfather couldn't provide. But with Emily, this emergency was likely to be at least slightly serious, an emergency in near-adult terms. Terms he might even be sympathetic with.

But she would be taking charge again, and this was something he and his ex-wife had agreed that she should be discouraged--no, freed--from doing so often. He cleared his throat. "Maybe I should talk to your mom," he said. Yes. The approach to take.

"Dad!" she objected. He didn't answer for a long moment, and as if in response to this, her voice had changed when she spoke again. She sounded younger: "Mom can't talk right now. That's why we need you."

And with those words, we need you, it was settled. To be needed. Well. Mark thought of Emily's delicate oval face, her regular, pretty features, her curly dark hair, so like Eva's--all the things that were lovely about her. All the things that didn't piss him off. "Okay," he said. "Okay, as it happens, I can come. As it happens, I will."

She wouldn't be charmed. "Now?" she said impatiently.

"Now. Or, gimme ten or so." He was slowing, and as he pulled into a turnaround by the roadside, the truck bounced and his tires crunched on the dusty gravel.

"Okay." She sighed, in relief it seemed. "Just honk, though," she said. "We'll come out. Oh, and Dad?"


"It's for overnight."

It could not be for overnight. He had plans. He had a date. He was going to get laid. "Okay, sunshine," he said. "We'll work it all out."

She sighed again and hung up.

Twenty minutes or so later, when he pulled up at the curb in front of his ex-wife's large Victorian house, the door opened before he hit the horn and his younger daughter staggered out onto the wide porch, carrying her sleeping bag, her pack an oversize hump on her back. Daisy was barefoot. Her long brown legs were exposed nearly to the crotch in cutoff jeans--legs that were beginning to look less like sticks and more like a woman's, he noted. Emily came out the door after her, turned backward as if to fuss with something behind her.

Two pretty, dark, young women, one tall, one short: his daughters. He got out of the truck to go and help them. As he started up the walk, he saw Theo emerging from the house behind Emily. The little boy, not yet three, was carrying a brown paper grocery bag by its handles. Something stuck out of it--a pillow? a blanket? He spotted Mark and smiled. Now Emily took Theo's hand to help him down the wide porch stairs. He paused on each one, and the bag plopped slowly from step to step behind him as he descended.

Mark met them on the walk. "Hey," he said. He kissed each girl on her head. They smelled identical, a ladylike herbal perfume: shared shampoo. He took Daisy's sleeping bag from her. "Theo!" he said, and extended his hand down to him. "To what do we owe this pleasure?"

"I'll explain it all to you," Emily called back. She had moved ahead of them down the walk, between the orderly gray-green procession of rosemary plants. She was tossing her stuff into the open back of the truck.

"So he's supposed to spend the night too?" Mark asked Daisy. Theo was not his son. Theo was his ex-wife's son, by her second marriage. He liked Theo. He was, in fact, charmed by him--he knew him well from various extended-family events--but he had never before been asked to babysit for him. And actually, no one had even asked.

Daisy shrugged. She looked, as she often did, sullen. Or evasive. Her face was narrower than Emily's, her nose still slightly too big on it--she was fourteen--her eyebrows darker and thick. She had shot up within the last two years, and now she was only a few inches shorter than Mark. She carried it badly, trying to hide it. Mark had worried when she was younger that she would be plain, which seemed to him an almost unbearably sad thing--a plain woman. Within the last six months or so, though, her face had changed and strengthened, and he saw that that wouldn't be the case. That she might, in fact, be better-looking than Emily in the end, more striking. It had made him easier around her, he realized.

They had caught up to Emily, who said again, "I'll explain it later." She sounded irritated, as though she were the adult and he a nagging child. She took Theo's hand and led him to the door of the truck's cab.

Mark went around to the driver's side. He opened his door and stood there looking across the cab's wide seat, waiting for Emily to look back at him. She wouldn't. Or she didn't. First she was helping the little boy clamber into the truck; now she climbed up herself and was busy buckling him in. When she finally raised her eyes and met her father's, he was ready. He lifted his hands. "Hey, Em," he said. "You will admit--"

"Daddy, it's an emergency. A real emergency." Her eyes, he noted now, were red-rimmed, their lids swollen.

Theo looked over at him and nodded. "It's a mergency," he said, and inserted his thumb into his mouth with an air of finality.

Daisy squeezed in next to Emily, and Mark got in and started the truck. He pulled into the street. After nearly a full minute had passed, he asked, "So, the nature of this emergency is . . . ?"

He could feel Emily's gaze on him, and he looked at her. She was frowning--her dark eyebrows made fierce lines. She shook her head. "We can't . . . we shouldn't . . . talk about it now." She gestured at Theo, sitting between them, watching them soberly.

Mark nodded. After another long moment he said, "But at some point it will be revealed."

"Yeah," she said. She turned away, and when he looked over again, he saw that she and Daisy were holding hands. What the hell was going on? Daisy's mouth hung open stupidly, as though she'd been sucker punched.

They drove in near-total silence the whole way to his house. Everyone's eyes stayed devoutly on the road, as though the familiar scenes rolling past--the valley as it widened out and spread the fall colors of its vineyards before them, the deep green of the hills riding along above it all--were some new and fascinating nature movie. Once Daisy said in a near-whisper, "Are those pills supposed to knock her out or something?" and Emily shrugged. That was it.

Knock who out? Not Eva, he thought. He imagined her, his ex-wife--small, dark, quick moving, graceful. Her sudden sexy smile. Not Eva.

Above Calistoga, he turned in at the unmarked dirt road to his house. There were sparse, newly planted vineyards on either side of it. He had to swerve and dance the truck to avoid the ruts. He could feel Theo's weight swing against his side. After about a quarter of a mile, he pulled into his driveway and then up onto the cement pad where one day he planned to build a garage.

As soon as he cut the engine, they could hear the dogs barking in the house. The children started to unbuckle their seat belts, and he swung himself out of the truck. He began to gather their possessions from the back. They came and stood behind him--silent, oddly passive, waiting for their things to be put into their hands.

He led the way. When he opened the back door, the dogs shot out and started jumping around, abruptly quieted by their joy in being released. Their heavy tails whacked everyone.

Theo made a little noise of terror and delight and stepped between Mark's legs, gripping his thighs. Mark put his hands on the boy's narrow shoulders, and was instantly startled--and then aware of being startled.

Why? Why did it feel so strange to touch the little boy?

Perhaps because he had anticipated the way the girls felt when they were Theo's size, when he had loved to touch them, to hold them. Theo's body was wiry and tense, utterly unlike theirs at the same age. It felt hot with energy.

"It's okay, big guy," Mark said gently. "They like you. They like kids like you."

Theo looked up at Mark, wide-eyed and alarmed. "They would like to eat me?" he asked. He was lighter-haired, lighter-skinned than the girls, and this difference somehow struck Mark as sad.

"No, no, no," Mark said. "They like to lick you, and play with you. You'll see. They're nice."

He squatted by Theo and held his own hand out to Fanny to be licked. When Theo imitated him after a moment, Fanny's long, rough tongue came out and stroked the boy's hand too. He snatched his arm back and jigged a little in fear and pleasure, a prancey running in place. He wore miniature red high-top sneakers. His striped socks had slid down almost entirely into them. One of his knees was thickly scabbed.

Emily and Daisy had disappeared immediately into the house, to put their things away, Mark assumed. He stood up. Theo grabbed his hand, and walked right next to Mark, into the kitchen, through it, virtually riding his left leg and talking all the while to the dogs: "No bite me! Bad dog! Bad, bad dog! No bite!"

Mark was feeling a rising, irritated frustration, which he didn't want to focus on the little boy. He gestured across the living room, toward the back of the house. "Let's go figure out what everyone's up to, shall we?"

Theo looked up at Mark. "Yah," he answered.

Theo shadowed him to the doorway of the back room. The girls' beds nearly filled its narrow space. It was dark and underwatery in here--the one window faced out into an overgrown evergreen shrub, which Mark kept meaning to prune, and hadn't. The light that filtered through it was weak and greenish. Daisy was carefully spreading her unzipped bag out on her bed, as she always did. This was her strategy to avoid making it, a chore she hated. Emily was already lying down, one arm under her head, staring out the window at nothing. Ignoring him, Mark felt.

"A word with you, Em?" he said, his voice carefully neutral.

Both girls looked at him. They seemed startled, like sleepers he'd wakened. He turned to his younger daughter. "Daze, could you keep an eye on Theo for a minute? He's scared of the dogs."

She nodded.

"I not scared," Theo was instantly shrilling. "I a big boy. I not scared."

As Mark and Emily stepped toward the doorway, Daisy, who had flopped down onto her bed, was starting a game: "How big are you, Theo? Big as a . . . lion?"

"Yes!" the boy cried.

As soon as Mark shut the door to his room, Emily sat down heavily at the foot of his rumpled bed and said, "Oh, Daddy, it's John. John's dead." Her face twisted, and tears immediately began sliding down it, as though she'd been waiting until this moment to allow herself her full measure of grief.

"What do you mean?" John was Eva's husband, the girls' stepfather. Theo's father.

"He's dead, Daddy." Her hands came to her face now and covered her opened mouth. She inhaled sharply through her fingers, and then closed her eyes. "He got hit . . . by a car. A car hit him."

Mark pictured it. He pictured it wrong, as it turned out, but he saw John then--his large body, bloody, slumped behind the wheel of his ruined car. He saw him dead, though he didn't believe it.

Mark sat down next to his daughter and held her, and she wept quietly and thoroughly, as he couldn't remember her weeping since he had told her he was moving out--long shuddering inhalations, and then a gentle high keening as her inheld breath came out. From the other bedroom he could hear Theo shrieking, "Bad! Bad!" and Daisy's voice trying to distract him.

"Sweetheart, it's okay. Cry, cry," he said. And then he said, "Shhh."

Though he was still thinking of John, still trying to take it in, he was also aware of thinking that it felt good, holding Emily. And of wondering when he had last held her, her or Daisy. He couldn't remember.

When she had calmed down a little, he stretched away from her to grab the box of tissues from the stand by the bed. She blew loudly, using several, and wiped her face. His shirt was wet where she had leaned against him.

"How did it happen?" he asked at last, keeping his voice gentle. "When?"

She seemed stricken again at the question, her eyes swam and grew larger, but she held on and whispered back, "This afternoon. A car just . . . hit him."

Mark cleared his throat. "He was driving?"

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Brief Biography

Boston, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
November 29, 1943
Place of Birth:
Chicago, Illinois
B.A., Radcliffe College, 1964; M.A.T., Wesleyan U., 1965; Ed.M., Harvard U., 1975; M.A. Boston U., 1980

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Lost in the Forest 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
DoranneLongPTMS More than 1 year ago
I am enjoying reading Sue Miller's books. They feel real, with a touch of heart-ache and tragedy; so a bit uncomfortable, but that's real life. Beautifully written story, with just enough hope and redemption to keep me turning the pages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Slept in her den.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Seems like it took forever to get to the climax of the story. It was okay,not one of my favorites.
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Maximillian More than 1 year ago
I am deeply disappointed that the 50 + year-old man (friend of the family-very typical) gets away with seducing a teenage girl who is very "lost" at this point in her life. The author's style of writing is easy to follow and does make the reader contemplate some life issues and some American cultural issues. I have read other books by this writer and I do think she is very good at describing contemporary society, but I also like accountability. This story left me with a bad/sad feeling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was easy to read, although the author's writing style was sometimes difficult to follow. There were a lot of broken sentences. The characters were developed well, but no one was ever happy. The characters experienced: tragic death, divorce, child abuse, complete sadness and therapy sessions. It was not a book to make you feel good.
ThePassionPlay More than 1 year ago
Daisy and I are complete opposites. Complete opposite lives, complete opposite personalities. I'm not extremely quiet, withdrawn; I have never cut piano lessons much less taken them; I never lied to my mother or went on a sexual journey with a man three times my age. Why, then, do I feel this vibe of similarity? It's the absent father. But, having an absent father has never fazed me like it did Daisy. It did more than faze her, actually. However, as I conclude, I daresay that I envy Daisy; I envy Daisy's father for my father; I envy that in the end, she got to know him, and he got to know her. Mark realized that Daisy needed him and he needed her. (Something my father failed to recognize). They both were wounded in some deep way, and they needed one another in order to heal. Even if there was still a scar left behind. Sue Miller's Lost in the Forest shows the importance of BOTH parents in the lives of their children. And, though this was not my type of book, I still give her props for it; it was well written and realistic. I liked it.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Iwas very disappointed in the book. A Middle aged man having an affair w// a minor. He should have been sentenced to prison.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read Sue Miller years ago (While I Was Gone and The Good Mother). I must have liked her style to read multiple books, but after reading this one, I doubt I will read others. Other reviewers have gone into plot details. (I'll just note that the character who was seduced was 15, not 14, as if that makes a difference.) I thought that Miller's descriptions were 'gratuitous' if you will.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I felt the book was an easy read, as others have said, but I was disappointed by many things one of which is where is the anger when it's found out that the 14 year old is having an affair with her mother's friend who is 50 -- anyway, not easy for me to recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you have read some of Sue Miller's earlier works, such as the Good Mother and While I Was Gone, you may find this book a disappointment. If you are a fan of Sue Miller, you will probably want to read it anyway. It is an easy read, and Sue Miller mesmerizes with her reflective, dreamy writing style. The plot sets in motion, after the main character's second husband is killed by a car. Most of story is the build up for what is about to happen to Daisy, the main characters 14 year old daughter. Grieving for her stepfather, she gets sucked into a sexual affair with a 50 some year old man. This is the climax of the story, and everything quickly winds down after a few titillating pages of her sexual coming of age. I was halfway through the book, lost in Sue Miller's dreamy writing style, before I realized, there would be no closure about what happened to the stepfather who was killed? We don't know, if he was killed by a hit and run driver? There is no discussion of a court case, regarding who might have hit him, and there is no mention of any police involvement. All this is glossed over. I felt that overall the story was rather weak and predictable. Eva the main character witnessed the violent death of her husband as did their three year old son. There is very little reference to the trauma that someone would experience as a result of witnessing such a terrible death of a loved one. I was also disappointed that there weren't any vibriant discriptions of the Northern California area, where the book is to take place. She writes a lot about it raining a lot there, which doesn't sound right. While she manages to wrap everything up at the end, the last chapter is very far removed from the story. You meet the characters many years later, and it is hard to related to it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This mesh of characters and various lifestyles is interesting and well done. Each point of view is a bit limited, but you can taste of feelings of each person involved, not too much just the right amount of exposure to experiences all of us have had and have viewed in others. Excellent read for someone wanting to be taken away from their life and surroundings.