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by Sue Miller
Random House Audio, 2005
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jan 2nd 2006

Lost in the Forest

Lost in the Forest tells of a divorced family, parents Eva and Mark, who had two daughters, Emily and Daisy, now teenagers. After Mark's infidelity several years ago, Eva threw him out and eventually remarried, to John, with whom she had a little boy, Theo. The novel starts with John's death, documents the grief and disruption this causes to all of them, compounding the harm of the original divorce. Daisy is fourteen at the start of the book, and the bulk of the narrative follows her and her family for a year or so. She is the one who is the most lost, and although different chapters are told from points of different characters in turn, by the end of the book, it seems that Daisy is really the central character. The narrator reveals only one fact about the future, which is that Daisy will end up in psychotherapy, and the story explains why.

They live in California: Mark is in the wine business, while Eva runs a bookstore. Emily is popular, preparing to go to college. Daisy is tall and athletic: she plays lots of sports and also practices the piano, but she has no real friends. Now that John is dead and Emily is leaving, Daisy has no one to confide in. The rest of the family just accepts her unresponsive nature now, but as events unfold, it becomes clear that Daisy needs more support. But she doesn't get it, and she starts to make bad decisions.

Miller's writing is masterful, and Blair Brown's assured reading brings out the magnetism of Miller's words. We get a very sympathetic profile of the dynamics of a middle class family in its environment; the descriptions lightly point out psychological subtleties of the interactions between the different characters, and tell us their secret thoughts. Mark reflects on what his marriage with Eva had given him, why he was not satisfied, and what he lost in the divorce. He becomes newly attracted to Eva now that she is single again. Eva mourns her husband and loses the ability to understand her daughters. Daisy is smart and confident, and outwardly she copes well with the loss of her stepfather, but when she becomes involved in a relationship with a man, she finds herself out of her depth. Miller handles the delicate matter of Daisy's sexual exploration with great care, treating her seriously and not shying away from the excitement she feels, yet still making clear that it is not healthy for her.

Lost in the Forest is utterly compelling, highlighting the power of grief and the effect of loss on adults and adolescents. Many authors try to set out the family dynamics of the middle class, but few have as much success as Sue Miller. Highly recommended.

 

2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.