World Below

World Below

Audiobook(Cassette - Unabridged, 6 cassettes, 10 hrs.)

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From the author of While I Was Gone, a magnificent new novel that showcases Sue Miller's singular talent for exposing the nerves that lie hidden in marriages, families, and the lives of women.

Maine, 1919. Georgia Rice, who has cared fro her father and two siblings since her mother's death, is diagnosed, at 19, with tuberculosis and sent away to a sanitarium. Freed from the burdens of caretaking, she discovers a nearly lost world of youth and possibility, and meets the doomed young man who will become her lover.

Vermont, the present. On the heels of a divorce, Catherine Hubbard, Georgia's granddaughter, takes up residence in Georgia's old house. Sorting through her own affairs, Catherine stumbles upon the true story of Georgia's life and marriage, and the misunderstanding upon which she build a lifelong love.

In the stories of these two women—linked by bitter disappointments, compromist, and powerful grace—Sue Miller offers us a novel of astonishing richness and emotional depth.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375419935
Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/02/2001
Edition description: Unabridged, 6 cassettes, 10 hrs.
Product dimensions: 4.18(w) x 6.15(h) x 2.66(d)

About 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.

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.


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

Read an Excerpt


Imagine it: a dry, cool day, the high-piled cumulus clouds moving slowly from northwest to southeast in the sky, their shadows following them across the hay fields yet to be cut for the last time this year. Down a narrow dirt road between the fields, a horse-drawn carriage, two old people wearing their worn Sunday clothes seated side by side in it, driving to town for their grown daughter's funeral. Neither of them spoke, though you could see, if you cared to look, that the old woman's lips were moving ceaselessly, silently repeating the same few phrases over and over. It was her intention, formed over the long weeks her daughter lay dying, to rescue her grandchildren from their situation, from their motherless house. To take all three of them back to the farm with her. She was rehearsing what she'd say, though she wasn't aware of her mouth forming the words, and her husband didn't notice.

Imagine this too: later in the afternoon of the same long day, the two older grandchildren, the girls, laughing together. Laughing cruelly at the old woman, their grandmother, for her misguided idea.

But perhaps it wasn't truly cruel. They were children, after all. As thoughtless as children usually are. What's more, they'd spent a good part of this strange day, the day of their mother's burial, laughing. Laughing nervously, perhaps with even a touch of hysteria, mostly because they didn't know what they ought to feel or think. Laughter was the easiest course. It was their way to ward off all the dark feelings waiting for them.

They'd been up before dawn, long before their father and little brother were awake, long before their grandparents started in to town, almostgiddy with the number and variety of their chores. The meal after the church service was to be elaborate—deviled eggs, ham, scalloped potatoes, rolls, three kinds of jellied salad, pudding, and butter cookies—and they each had a list of things to do connected with it. They worked in the kitchen in their nightgowns, barefoot, as the soft gray light slowly filled the room. When the housekeeper, Mrs. Beston, arrived, she chased them upstairs to get dressed.

They had ironed their own dresses the day before because Mrs. Beston was so busy. They hung now on hangers from the hook behind their bedroom door, smelling of starch, smelling just slightly still of the heat of the iron—that sweet, scorchy odor. As they pulled them on over their heads and then helped each other plait their long braids, they were convulsed, again and again, by lurches of laughter that felt as uncontrollable as sneezing. Sometimes it was wild, almost mean. It fed on itself. Just looking at each other, or at their sleepy little brother, Freddie, who'd come in in his nightshirt, his hair poking up strangely, to sit on their bed and watch them, could set it off.

Maybe this explained it then—why, later in the day, when their father told them of their grandmother's notion, they couldn't stop themselves: why they gave way again to the same ragged hysteria. They laughed at her. They laughed at her and their grandfather's having clopped into town with horse and buggy; their father had had a motorcar forever, it seemed to them (it had been seven years). They laughed because she had only eight teeth left in her head and therefore smiled with her hand lifted to cover her mouth—they could both imitate this awkward, apologetic gesture perfectly. They laughed because she wore a ridiculous straw hat shaped like a soggy pancake, and an old-fashioned dress, the same old-fashioned dress she wore to all ceremonial events. They laughed because she had thought their father would so easily give them away.

"They are still children," is what the old woman said to her son-in-law. "They need a childhood." The two of them had gone together into the parlor after they greeted each other, and when she told him it was private, what she had to say to him, he shut the sliding pocket doors. It had been such a long time since anyone had pulled them out that a thick gray stripe of dust evenly furred all their decorative molding.

They sat not really looking at each other, the new widower and the dead woman's mother, and the grandmother forced herself to keep talking, to try to explain her plan to him. She wasn't a good talker, even in the easiest circumstances, and none of this was easy, of course. She hadn't imagined very much beyond her first statement ahead of time either. It was really her entire argument.

What's more, her son-in-law had always made her shy. He was a large, almost handsome man with slicked-down hair, getting burly now as he approached forty-five. He was a salesman, of vulcanized rubber goods, and his way of dealing with the world came directly from that life: he wanted to amuse you, to charm you. When he was courting her daughter—Fanny, her name was—he had flirted with the grandmother, and this had made her tongue-tied and silent around him. Once, after she'd served him a blueberry cake he found especially delicious, he'd grabbed her and waltzed her around the scrubbed wooden floors of her farmhouse kitchen. This had so unnerved her—his energy and strength, and her helplessness against them—that she'd burst into shameful tears.

That's what she felt like doing now, weeping, she was making such a mess of getting this said. It had seemed so clear to her as she moved through her solitary days while her daughter was dying and then since. The children needed her. They couldn't be left alone through the week any longer. The girls couldn't be asked to be so responsible—taking care of themselves and then their little brother too. It was too much. It was simply too much. They needed a home: someone to take care of them. She would offer to bring them to town on Fridays to be with him for the weekend. Or he could come out and stay with them on the farm. Oh, they'd be happy to have him!

All this planning had kept the image of her daughter—wasted, curled on her side, rising to consciousness only to cry out in pain—from her mind; though she'd spoken to Fanny often, another version of Fanny, as she'd made her preparations: as she'd shaken out the extra bedding, as she'd set out the framed pictures of her in the unused rooms she'd made up for the children. "Oh my dear girl," she had whispered. "They will be fine, you'll see. They just need someone to tend to them for a change, that's all, and I am the one to do it."

Her son-in-law waited a moment now, out of kindness and sorrow, before he answered. Then he cleared his throat and said that he saw things somewhat differently. His older daughter was almost sixteen, the younger thirteen—not really children at all. They were big, good girls. He needed their help, he said.

Of course, this was exactly her point. She didn't press it, though. She sat silently and nodded, just once, furious at herself. She was giving up. This easily.

And they were, he continued gently (very gently: he was fond of his mother-in-law, this cadaverously skinny and stern old woman), his children, after all.

She stood up and turned away from him, but not before he saw her mouth pull down, grim and defeated.

It had taken Fanny several years to die, of cancer, though no one had ever spoken the word in the house or in front of the children. And the truth was, as the grandmother would have admitted if she weren't wild with a grief that turned in like self-blame, that Fanny had been so unusual a young and then a nearly middle-aged woman that the girls had been in charge of the household long before anyone had guessed she was ill. So much for needing a childhood.

The girls were named Georgia and Ada. Georgia, the older, could remember even in the years when her mother was well, coming home from school for lunch, a privilege of the town children, to find the house silent, Fanny still in her housecoat, lying on the sofa in the parlor reading, just as she had been when Georgia left. She'd look up, surprised and dizzy. Her face was round and full, with fat, childish lips and a baby's startled blue eyes: a pretty, oddly unformed-looking young woman. "Why, Georgia," she'd say, day after day. "How can you be back so soon?" And then she'd rise and ineffectually pat at her hair or her robe. Often she was barefoot, even in winter. "Well, we'd better go see what we can scratch up for you girls to eat, hadn't we?"

It was a disgrace, really, though the children didn't care; they'd gotten used to it long before. In the kitchen, the breakfast dishes were still on the table, the grease congealed, the skin of the syrup pools lightly puckering with the unseen motion of the air. Upstairs, the beds would gape, unmade. When the baby, Freddie, came, Georgia's first task at noon would often be to take him up to the nursery to change his drooping diaper. "Oh, you pooper," she would say. "You big flop maker. Look what you've done now, you wicked boy." She would keep a steady stream of this insulting talk flowing, so that he would lie still in fascination and amusement and make her job easier, but also so that she wouldn't gag—she never got used to the piercing scent of ammonia, and worse, that she released each time she unpinned his sagging, weighted cloths.

It was a little while after Freddie came—Georgia later thought it must have been then that her mother had first become ill—that they began to have regular help, finally. Mrs. Beston. Her name was Ellen, but no one ever called her that, not even their mother. Mrs. Beston, always and only, though their father sometimes called her Mrs. Best One when she wasn't around to hear it. She was tall and raw-boned and strong. Entirely without humor, and yet endlessly, bottomlessly cheerful. She arrived Monday mornings, just as their father was leaving for the week. "You must take these children in hand, Mrs. Beston," he'd say, pulling on his coat. "They're spoiled rotten. A daily whipping, I should think, and gruel for supper four nights a week at the minimum." The children, sitting on the stairs waiting to say goodbye, would look at each other with wicked grins.

"Oh, Mister, don't say that!" Mrs. Beston would cry uneasily.

"No, no, we count on you, Mrs. Beston. Lock them in their rooms. Send them to bed with no supper. Hang them up by their thumbs till they promise to obey."

"Oh now, Mr. Rice!"

"I'm off now, Mrs. Beston. By Friday, I have every confidence, you'll have instilled in them the fear of the Lord."

But she didn't. She forgave them everything. Everyone, to her, was a poor dear, most of all their mother. Mrs. Rice, the poor dear. It was only slowly that Georgia came to understand that this was more than peculiarly expressed affection, that Mrs. Beston was referring to something specific, something sad and wrong about her mother.

She was supposed to leave by three-thirty or four—she had her own family to get home to and cook for—but often she stayed after her chores were done, just to do a few pieces in the puzzle with them, just to play one more hand of Slapjack, one round of War. When she did leave, the house was clean, the laundry was done if it was laundry day, and—after their mother was really ill—there was always something prepared in the kitchen and the girls left with instructions on how to warm it and serve it. Though by then Fanny didn't have much appetite, Ada or Georgia would always take a tray to her room before they served themselves and Freddie at the kitchen table. And after dinner one of them would go to fetch the nearly untouched tray back down. Both of them were good at keeping track, both of them always knew whether she'd eaten more or less today than yesterday, though they never commented on this to each other.

But they'd all gotten skilled by this time at never acknowledging what they knew, at pretending they didn't see what they saw. Everything conspired to encourage them in this—Mrs. Beston's determined good cheer, their father's strained, sometimes desperate gaiety, their neighbors' polite silence about what was happening in their house.

And their mother: well, hadn't she always been this way? Indolent, half the time in bed anyway, reading or just daydreaming? Oh, she was sick, they certainly knew that, but they all expected—or pretended to expect, and then forgot they were pretending—that she'd be herself again by spring; or then by summer, when they'd drive over to Bucksport and have lobsters at the pound; or surely by fall, when they'd need to go shopping in Pittsfield for new school things.

Late one afternoon the summer her mother lay dying, Georgia came out onto the screened porch off the kitchen. Mrs. Beston had gone for the day, but she'd left Fanny's sheets soaking in a galvanized metal tub of cold water. The blood had colored them evenly a beautiful shade of deep sherbet pink. They looked like snow-covered mountains at sunset. Caught by surprise at the sight, Georgia stopped short and gasped. Her heart was pounding. But then quickly her mind performed its familiar, useful trick: they were having chicken stew for dinner that night, and what she told herself was that the blood was of course from the slaughter of the chicken, somehow spilled onto these cloths.

There was a world of knowledge that she had to ignore to hold on to this thought, starting with the fact that the chickens were slaughtered out behind the henhouse, but she was practiced at it, it was all accomplished in seconds. She started to whistle as loudly as she could, "Where E'er You Walk." She went outside into the overgrown yard where the lupines and lemon lilies were slowly being choked out by weeds, and began savagely to pluck them, singing now, ignoring the occasional cry of her mother, audible even through the windows she insisted stay shut.

She wanted her father, Georgia thought, yanking at the flowers. She wanted him home right now. But he was out on the road for two more days, until Friday, driving his usual circuit of general stores and hardware stores in a radius of several hundred miles. He carried samples of his wares in his motorcar, and the car had come to have that rubbery odor permanently, an odor Georgia would find reassuring even into her old age...

From the Audio CD (Unabridged) edition.

Copyright 2001 by Sue Miller

Reading Group Guide

1. 1

2. What is the significance of Samuel and Catherine's discussion about the "central invisible fact" of people's life [p. 137]? What "invisible fact" underlies the lives of Georgia, of John, and of Catherine herself?

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World Below 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
LibbieBond More than 1 year ago
Doomed romances and relationships, numerous deaths and family secrets, and stories from the past and present set the standards for a great book. Sue Miller's book, The World Below includes all characteristics, and starts off with potential to be a great read. However, a few pages in leaves readers wondering how it could be a New York Times Notable Book and a National Bestseller. With weak characters, predictable plot, and awkward relationships, The World Below is a huge letdown. Cat Hubbard, two-time divorcee, escapes across country in the dead of winter to rural Vermont. Staying in the home of her grandparents and where she grew up, Cat tries to find herself again. While rummaging through the attic, she stumbles upon her grandmother's journals. The book then rotates between present day, Cat's childhood, and her grandmother's life; each time period as boring and forgettable as the next. 50-year-old Cat, trying to remember who she used to be, remains in Vermont for several months until her pregnant, middle-aged daughter goes into labor. Cat zooms back to California leaving multiple strings hanging. An awkward and unfit relationship with 70-year-old historian, Samuel, and rediscovering herself included. Extremely drug out and depthless, Sue Miller's book falls flat. Every part is feeble and forgettable; characters, plot, and setting. The book deserves one out of five stars, maybe. All 275 pages creep sluggishly by, causing one to find better things to do; chores, laundry, or even homework.
CBJames on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good intentions can change another person's life, but this change may not always be welcome. When the mother of two girls dies, their grandmother arrives to take them back to her rural home. Their father refuses the offer; privately, the girls laugh at the notion of living with their backwoods relative. But she was right. Caring for their widowed father would prove to be a great sacrifice. They probably would have been better off with the freedom their grandmother's care could have provided.Years later, when the elder daughter becomes ill, her doctor sends her away to a sanatorium for her health. When she returns, the two marry. After several decades together she discovers that she wasn't really sick enough to warrant the sanatorium. Her husband sent her because he thought it would be best, because he thought she needed to escape the life she had taking care of her father.She is not grateful for his intervention. She liked the life she had. The doctor's well intended gesture had changed her life forever.Years later, the doctor will do the same for his grand-daughter by sending her to Paris to live with her aunt. There she will discover a side of the grandmother who has raised her that she never suspected. Sue Miller writes about the ways relationships can be complicated by simple acts and by dramatic ones. Sometimes these are one in the same. In The World Below some characters reveal their past lives, others are discovered, but no one is who we think they are, not entirely. Everyone has a history. Discovering it can be painful, revealing it can be cruel.Ms. Miller understands the complexities of people and the relationship they form. She understands that even happy families struggle to maintain their relationships. Her work proves Tolstoy wrong, happy families are not all alike. You just have to look a bit harder, get to know them intimately. Families are complex things. For love to survive, some things must be revealed, some things are best kept secret.
KApplebaum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is the story of a grandmother and her adult granddaughter. The grandmother's story was fabulous, while the granddaughter's story was a yawner.
readingrat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Two parallel stories of two women two generations apart. The grandmother's story is entirely absorbing. The grand-daughter's story spends a lot of time (maybe too much time) on that overly-worn divorced-woman-trying-to-find-herself path, however the pre-mature birth of the newest member of the family keeps it from becoming completely trite. The submerged town as an interesting allegory to the whole.
mana_tominaga on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A lyrical, touching intertwined tale of two generations of women and their loves, romances, and regrets. In Maine, 1919, Georgia Rice, who has taken care of her father and siblings and household since the death of her mother, is diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent off to a sanitorium, where she engages in a romance with another patient, doomed to early death. In the present Vermont, Catherine Hubbard, Georgia¿s granddaughter, moves into Georgia¿s old house in an attempt to sort out her own life and romances. Both women become motherless at the same age, struggle in their marriages, and work hard to understand their roles as mothers.
pdebolt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a compelling novel about a woman who returns to the home of her deceased grandparents to recapture she once knew there following a divorce. She remembers her grandmother through her diaries and her own memories. The grandmother's story of being hospitalized in a sanitorium for tb patients and her subsequent marriage to her doctor. The diaries reveal details of her grandmother's life previously unknown to the woman. It is a story within a story and told in Sue Miller's signature excellent style.
echoesofstars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Often times I had to put down this book, not because it was boring, but because I had to pause to think about what it said. The depth of exploration of nuance and innuendo in the passages is astounding. A superbly well-written probe at the past and at family.
dldbizacct on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. It told an interesting story with bits of history and culture that were new to me and fascinating. Also, Sue Miller surely has a way with words; her writing is smooth and engaging. I could, however, have done without the gratuitous self-sex scene at the beginning of the book. I think I understand why she included it, but it was unnecessary, bordering on tasteless, and really out of place. Otherwise the book was an enjoyable read.
wesner24 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A book about a younger generation discovering things from the older generation that brings to light the complexities that make up a family. Catherine discovers who her Grandmother really was through her diaries. Catherine is going through an odd stage in her life having just going through the trauma of yet other failed marriage. You can't help but start to think about some of the things that have happened in your own life when you read this book.
cranmergirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book tells the stories of Georgia Rice and her granddaughter, Catherine Hubbard, mainly through the eyes of Catherine. Catherine has just gone through her second divorce. At about the same time, she has inherited her grandparents' house in Vermont. As she is feeling a bit lost, Catherine decides to head east and live there for at least a while. While snooping around in the attic, she comes across her grandmother's diaries. She discovers that her grandparents' love was real, but it was not as easy and uncomplicated as she had always assumed. There had been misgivings on both sides early in the marriage which lingered for a time below the surface, but these were ultimately reconciled. This was the "world below" the surface, referred to in the title. Eventually, Catherine seems to derive some satisfaction from coming to recognize that most marriages are multi-layered and complicated, not just her two failed ones. Ultimately, she goes home to San Francisco to be near one of her daughters who has just given birth to her first child. I thought the ending was very weak and although I enjoyed reading much of this book, something seemed to be missing in the character of Catherine. I can't say for sure what it was. I found myself looking forward to all of the sections about the grandparents and being a little bored when the story would get back to Catherine. The bottom line...... I wouldn't run out and buy this, but if you already own it, it's worth a read.
Fourborne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I keept waiting for something exciting to happen. I ususally like her books.
writestuff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sue Miller¿s 7th novel - The World Below - begins in Maine in the early part of the twentieth century with Georgia Rice. Georgia¿s mother has recently died from cancer, and Georgia - being the eldest child of three siblings - steps into the role of caring for her father and younger brother and sister. But an unexpected diagnosis of tuberculosis sends her to a sanitarium which will change her life in unexpected ways.Fast forward to the present day where the reader is introduced to Georgia¿s 50-something year old granddaughter, Catherine Hubbard who has returned to her grandparent¿s home to start over again after a recent divorce. Catherine discovers her grandmother¿s diaries, and begins to piece together Georgia¿s life.She discovers her own life has paralleled her grandmother¿s in inexplicable ways. We learn (through flash backs) that Catherine¿s mother, mentally ill and fragile, dies when Catherine is only a teenager, and Catherine briefly goes to live with her grandparents - who are now living in Vermont. During this time in her life, she senses a deep undercurrent of old resentments and misunderstandings which lie beneath the surface of her grandparent¿s marriage. Later, as an adult, Catherine starts her own family ¿ and suffers through two painful divorces, leaving her to wonder what her future will bring.The World Below is a multi-layered, non-linear novel which slips back and forth between the generations. It is a novel about the subtle power struggles within a marriage, the loss of childhood innocence, the re-discovery of self as one moves through the years, and the tenuous hold we have on the past.I must admit to the novel being slow going for me and a little confusing (with all the flash backs and change in point of view) at the start; but as I made my way through Georgia and Catherine¿s lives, their stories began to interest me, and I was slowly pulled into the story. Miller writes with great depth and understanding of her characters - who are filled with the human flaws we all share. Her writing is honest and searing, forcing the reader to examine her own life while sharing the lives of the characters. I have enjoyed Miller¿s previous books, and this was no exception.Recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Intresting book and introspective
Maertel More than 1 year ago
Plot moves along though characters need more for readers to care deeply about. I hope there is a sequel, involving Jessie and Samuel.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked the author's writing style and the development of the characters. I will recommend this one.