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The Lake Shore Limited

The Lake Shore Limited - Sue Miller This is an interesting book exploring a person's reaction to tragedy, depending on the vantage point from which one comes to it, at the time it occurs. Explicitly, the story revolves around the terrorist attack of 9/11, although it is about an imaginary attack on a train; it is about the conflicting emotions it engendered in everyone involved, and everyone was involved since 9/11 hit at the core of every American’s heart.

A couple, Leslie and Pierce, are visiting Boston for the opening of a show written by Billy, former lover of Leslie’s brother Gus who was murdered in a plane crash on 9/11. The show, titled The Lake Shore Limited, is not supposed to be about 9/11, but it definitely evokes thoughts about it, especially for Leslie. As Leslie witnesses the actor’s portrayal of characteristics which seem to be taken from her brother Gus and his former lover's feelings about their family and sundry life events, she becomes aware of a bit of the personal life and problems that must have existed between her brother and Billy, upsetting problems she was unaware of until she saw the play.

On stage, the story, on the surface, is about a couple, Gabriel and Elizabeth. Elizabeth has had thoughts questioning their future together and has gone off to think. Gabriel has also questioned their relationship and has been restless and unfaithful. The train returning her home was involved in a terrorist attack and whether or not she survives, and the reaction to that possibility, is the crux of the story. The circle of people this tragedy involves extends out like tentacles, from those who are immediately affected by it, to those peripherally touched. Their secrets are exposed; they cause pain, and ultimately, renewal, in some cases, even offering some a second chance at life.

There are many parallels in the lives of the actors on stage and those of the audience, particularly to Leslie and her friend Sam, whom she has invited to meet Billy, and to Billy and Gus. Viewing the play causes conflict in Leslie and somewhat of an epiphany in Sam, regarding his past relationships. The main actor, Gabriel (Rafe), brings his own grief and suffering to the part he plays, which makes his performance even more real to the audience and inspires him to rethink his life and change his ways. The play itself raises many questions which the audience appreciates and investigates long after it is over.

The question of how one would feel if they were suddenly faced with the loss of their partner hovers over everyone. Would your response be appropriate in the eyes of your loved ones: would you be relieved, thinking a new life was opening up for you, an escape hatch; would you think your life was shutting down and ending; would you go on with renewed hope, would it confirm your desire to leave your former lifestyle; would it give you a second chance to show remorse for broken promises; would your true feelings be exposed to the world, against your will; could you hide your true feelings when they became conflicted? All of these different reactions would depend on the point from which your memories began and from which your life was lived, happily or unhappily; all of the reactions would depend on how you would wish to go forward afterwards. The book examines the idea of fate, in our daily lives. Do some things occur to point us in one direction or another or do we march along willy-nilly, reacting to things by chance. Are some things inevitable? No matter what the event, tragic or joyous, no matter how we think we cannot go on, we all do, somehow; we all continue, some crippled with guilt, some overwhelmed by fear, some with hope.

The book is about guilt and with it the appropriate expression of sorrow. It is about feelings of obligation, about accepting what life presents and how we eventually deal with it; it is about relationships, how they change, wither or grow, and it is about what causes theses alterations in behavior. It is about what draws people together, what outside forces are at work, and it is about what tears them apart, in some instances. It is about inappropriate reactions when faced with a dilemma and the consequences of all of our actions when faced with incontrovertible tragedy.

I listened to the narrative which was read by the author. She did an admirable job but might have been better served by a professional reader with a more resonant, expressive voice, rather than hers which was a bit scratchy. Still, it was a good reading of the book. Also, if the too explicit, unseemly sexual descriptions had been left out and the insensitive and unwarranted political points of view had been deleted, I would have given the book four stars, instead of three. These two issues, so superciliously expressed, detracted me so much from the main theme of the story, however, that I could not. Both had nothing to do with the theme of the story, did not enhance it, and simply served to allow her to use her bully pulpit to spread her liberal ideas to a wider audience, even contested points of view. I dislike when an author foists an unrequested political view upon the reader, often views they may not share, when they are not pertinent to the substance of the novel. It is for this reason that I dialed back my rating on the book.

I read about how the author recognized the value of a play when it caused the viewers to explore their own feelings and lives, as a result of seeing it. In much the same way, I think a book impacts the reader’s life, when the readers use the experience to examine the lives they lead. Perhaps this is such a book.