cover image On Not Being Someone Else: Tales of Our Unled Lives

On Not Being Someone Else: Tales of Our Unled Lives

Andrew H. Miller. Harvard Univ., $29.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-674-23808-4

This thoughtful and meditative study from Victorian literature professor Miller (The Burdens of Perfection) is wonderfully lucid about murky questions of what might have been. Reflecting on the question of how one’s life might have been different with different choices or under different circumstances, he asserts that storytellers are naturally drawn to exploring “unled lives.” Miller moves fluidly between examples that include novels (Mrs. Dalloway), films (It’s a Wonderful Life), and poems (“The Road Not Taken”) to show that “unled lives lead to story.” The feeling that one can determine the direction of one’s own life “is a luxury given to those born to choice and chance,” Miller writes, and demonstrates this in an analysis of Jessie Redmom Fauset’s Harlem Renaissance novel, Plum Bun, about the lives of two African-American sisters, one of whom passes for white. Meanwhile, Miller’s analysis of romantic relationships in Sharon Olds’s poetry collection Stag’s Leap, and Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain,” suggests that everyone has an opportunity to be someone else when combining their life with someone else’s. Both literature specialists, who will appreciate Miller’s breadth of examples, and general readers, who can enjoy the universal topics he explores, will find much food for thought in this pleasant work. (June)