The Lake Shore Limited, by Sue Miller

The Lake Shore Limited, by Sue Miller, is a complex novel about love, family,and the devastating effects of tragedy. The tragedy is 9/11 and the lives are of people affected in the aftermath. The story contains a story within it-- the play entitled, "The Lake Shore Limited." This stage production takes place six years after 9/11. In the play, the lead character awaits news of a Chicago subway bombing in which his wife has been a victim. His detachment masks the guilt he feels for not loving and not grieving appropriately.

The play is a mirror of the of its playwright, Wilhelmina "Billy" Gertz. Like the protagonist in the play, she, too, has lost someone violently in the 9/11 crash of a plane. She no longer loved Gus, who she deemed too young and immature for her. Billy was going to end the relationship at the time of the crash. But now, she must play the grieving "widow." Her feelings are complicated by Gus's sister, Leslie, who assumes she is as devastated by the loss as she is.

There are two other characters of note in this book. Sam is a divorced architect with whom Leslie has had an innocent flirtation. Inappropriate as it seems, she introduces him to Billy after the opening of her play. And like the character in her play, Billy is very ambivalent about entering into any relationship.

Last, Rafe, the actor who plays the husband in Billy's play, is struggling with a loss of affection for his dying wife. He watches her horrible demise from Lou Gehrig's disease, and feels remorse that he uses his personal grief to make his acting more convincing.

One difficulty with this novel is the detachment the reader feels as he/she reads the book. In addition, the characters are all very flawed and unlikable. Pierce, Leslie's husband, seems almost too noble. Betrayal and deceit abound. This is intentional on the part of Miller. It is as though we are watching the action unfold in two plays. The psychological impact in both is highly disturbing. How does it feel to love, but not love enough? Do we assume others are grieving in the manner society expects of them, and what of their feelings? Do other people's lives appear happier than they really are?

As Ron Charles of The Washington Post (Wednesday, April 21, 2010) wrote: "This is emotional terrain some people won't feel comfortable in, but it's gorgeously drawn and told with stark honesty. The theatrical performance serves as a surprisingly effective stage for Miller's rueful reflection on what actors we all are--and how unfairly we convict ourselves for the impurity of our affection."


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