The third of Sue Miller’s novels to explore love’s permutations, For Love seems more blatant in its examination of this universal emotion through personal metaphors while also more intimate in following its heroine’s journey to self-understanding than The Good Mother (1986) or Family Pictures (1990). Through discovering what she and those around her are willing to do “for love,” Lottie Gardner’s life is radically transformed over the course of her forty-fifth summer. Unable to remain distant from her brother’s obsessive affair with a neighbor-his former high school sweetheart who is newly estranged from her philandering husband-Lottie evolves from interested observer to reluctant coconspirator in their doomed romance.
A series of unexpected events and revelations erode Lottie’s own emotional armor, finally propelling her to fight to save her troubled marriage. After a freak car accident erases the separations between love, pain, and even death in her superficially secure world, Lottie comes to understand that she has avoided intimacy out of fear-as have the people she cares for most deeply-and that one cannot truly be open to love without also risking pain.
When the reader meets Lottie, she is a successful journalist who has survived a battle with breast cancer, has recently married Jack-a Chicago oncologist she met while researching an article about cancer-and is taking a summer sabbatical from her life to prepare her aging mother’s Cambridge house for sale. Newly installed in a nursing home, Lottie’s mother suffers from senility and liver damage, and Lottie finds it difficult to relate to the withdrawn woman whose alcoholism and anger pervaded her painful childhood. Lottie’s younger brother Cameron, the unmarried owner of a Boston bookshop, is more forgiving of their mother’s flaws, so his relationship with Lottie is supportive but strained. As Lottie attempts to assuage her familial guilt by replacing the wallpaper and sanding her mother’s hardwood floors with the help of her college- bound son Ryan-the primary focus of Lottie’s affections since her divorce from his father during Ryan’s infancy-she is forced to examine her past and make some hard choices about her future. She also suffers a mild writer’s block and avoids work on her latest article, ironically an essay exploring love from societal and historical perspectives.
Things change irrevocably, however, when Lottie’s emotional solitude is pierced by Cameron’s renewed affair with Elizabeth Butterfield (nee Harbour), who grew up across the street and whose “perfection” still proves a painful mirror to Lottie’s self-doubts. Cameron has pined for Elizabeth since she married someone else, and Elizabeth’s return to her mother’s home with her two young children to escape her philandering husband, Larry, miraculously provides Cameron with an opportunity to win her back. Elizabeth allows herself to become involved with Cameron as much to assuage her wounded ego as out of genuine affection for him. Yet when Larry arrives to mend their rift, she chooses him over Cameron once again,...
(The entire section is 1285 words.)