Sue Miller's The World Below offers two parallel narratives spanning nearly an entire century. Catherine Hubbard returns to her grandmother's house in Vermont in order to connect to herself and her past. She is helped along by the surviving diaries of her grandmother, who in 1919, suffering from tuberculosis, was placed in a sanitarium by the doctor who was later to become her husband.
Catherine, a two-time divorcee with three grown children, leaves her San Francisco home and three grown children to find herself immersed in remembrances of childhood: her mother's suicide, her grandparent's marriage, her fascination with a strange underwater town in the nearby countryside. She reconnects with her grandmother, Georgia, through her diaries, which detail her "scandalous" freedom at the sanitarium, and her relationship with her husband-- the doctor who put her there.
The novel is very much about how we interpret the past. Georgia's diaries tell a story, yet that story is only the beginning--the layer above the surface. The novel offers, through Georgia's point of view, the entire story--more than what is contained in the written record. The narrative becomes like the city submerged beneath the water--only fully visible under the right circumstances.
Though the two threads of the story are engrossing individually, particularly Georgia's, there is, however, very little that binds them thematically together. Each seems a novel in itself, and thus fails somewhat in this regard. Nevertheless, each part is emotionally intense in it's own way, making it definitely worth reading.