Isabel Miller was the pseudonym used by Alma Routsong, an American born in 1924. The Love of Good Women was first published in 1986 and tells the story of Gertrude and Milly, women married to two brothers, Earl and Barney respectively. It's set as WWII is wrapping up and essentially follows Gertrude as she unexpectedly finds independence from her domineering husband. That journey takes her to a factory where she makes friends along with her own money. The story is a typical belated coming-of-age narrative, but the one thing that really set it apart for me was Miller's tremendous use of dialogue.
Gertrude and Milly came alive for me through the dialogue. I realise that's how fiction should work but I was surprised by the ease of slipping into 1940s American speech for me. Occasionally it jars but I think it's supposed to. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Gertrude and her factory friends and the way all the characters sounded unique and yet not unrealistic. Miller's narrative method is very specific, focusing on individual scenes and details which add depth to the overall piece. The book is only a few hundred pages long but I felt as though I'd lived with the characters for much longer than that. It's split into three books, one from Milly's perspective sandwiched in between two from Gertrude's, and has a foreword and postscript from Milly.
On the very first page, Miller had me, as Milly expresses something most people, gay or straight, can relate to: "But Milly had learned to get the good of love, the wonderful leap and sweetness in the chest during the little while when it wasn't committably insane to hope." Come on... who doesn't relate?
Amazon page for The Love of Good Women is here.
I read this for the LGBT Reading Challenge 2011 (see sidebar for details).