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The Lake Shore Limited

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players…

But each player can only guess what the other actors are thinking as they say their lines.   In The Lake Shore Limited, Sue Miller lets us in.

Using a play about a train wreck triggered by terrorists, Miller reveals the play within a play – the lives of the actor, playwright, and audience reflected in the script.   The story opens with the play and keeps returning to it as the real lives of the characters unfold.

At the preview performance of  “The Lake Shore Limited” all the key characters are present: Billy, the playwright, faced with her ambivalence after her lover, Gus, died in a 9/11 plane crash; Leslie, Gus’s sister, struggling with her own identity; Rafe, the lead actor in Billy’s play, whose wife is dieing of ALS; and Sam, introduced to Billy by Leslie as a possible love interest.  What seems more than a little Shakespearean, the theme focuses on how hard it is to figure out what really is important in their lives, and the sacrifices  made to get to that realization.  Throughout, Miller has a knack for delivering dialogue and action that are familiar.

Scenes from 9/11 sneak in, with the desperation of the survivors having to live on and remember. But Miller manages to avoid the trite yet miserable storyline that has been retold before, and dives down another level to explore what happens when wishes, no matter how horrible, come true. The lead in the play wonders if the disaster has actually brought him a reprieve – a feeling echoed in the real lives of the characters in the novel.  As he works through his guilt, betrayal, and epiphany in the play- so do Billy, Sam, Rafe, and Leslie in their lives.

Miller’s attention to detail as she sketches out each one’s inner turmoil,  connection to each other, and worry about how actions are received and perceived is sometimes more than you need.  At times, the story seems to go on forever.  But Miller cleanly connects the dots, and maintains interest with the novel’s organization – flipping back and forth among the voices.   It’s like watching a play, with an interview of each actor backstage, explaining  the motivation – Method acting for real life.

“All’s well that ends well;”  the story finally lands in a happy ending, and the dog has a great role.