“She thinks about the things that have hurt her and she thinks about beauty and how little of it she sees in even beautiful things. She wonders if people who’ve been hurt more see more beauty. She wonders how a few strung-together words can seem so meaningful when she doesn’t believe them at all.”
She could be me, or you, or any woman we know. I love the writing in each of these heavy and sometimes disturbing stories. They are gritty, stones in the soul! Miller says so much in the actions and situations each character finds herself living. Most people who read my reviews know I am not the biggest aficionado of short stories but over the past two years, that is changing. Mary Miller had me so absorbed that I was up late finishing them and the next morning trying to shake them off. Speaking of shaking off, this small excerpt is beautifully true. “When you grow up poor, even if you do everything thereafter to be not-poor, there’s no way to shake it completely.” Loaded with meaning, just delicious. I felt like Miller was in my own thoughts, cynical and otherwise. I can’t continue inserting all the sentences I highlighted, because then I would give the short stories away- but my God how she nails it! Not all women get the princess treatment, most aren’t born under lucky stars with indiscriminate beauty bestowed upon them. They take what they can get in life, sometimes scraps. Going through the motions, giving people what they want, even if it leaves a girl lacking.
I won’t break down each story, but they are from all walks of life. I particularly enjoyed the story At One Time This Was The Longest Covered Walkway In The World, because the woman dating the divorced father comes off at times disinterested in his little boy and then adoring him. Walking into a broken situation with exes, well… she sometimes seems selfish and other times what she feels makes perfect sense. It’s a sort of half love, isn’t it? Someone comes into ready made families and hasn’t had time to adjust to the splits that happen in the heart when children are born. There is no longer room for undivided attention for new lovers.
Big Bad Love kept chewing on my heart. This isn’t a sweet version of orphans or children with messed up parents looking like that puppy in the window, all sweet and sloppy with happy love for anyone who will take them. These kids have seen things. The interactions between Diamond and her caretaker made me laugh and ache. “Diamond is preoccupied with ugly. She wants to know if she’s ugly, if I’m ugly, if the baby full of scars and fungus is ugly. I tell her we are all beautiful. I tell her we are children of God.” It’s so easy to not think about the reality of other people. This story hurt the most, just imagining what life must be like for children that didn’t have the things they should, the love and care and the people who step in to help that have their hearts broken again and again in investing in all of them. The endless stream of suffering, the horror that there is always another broken child out there to replace the one you just set back out into the brutal world.
There is so much depth if you pay attention, one could just sink. Gorgeous, it’s wonderful to find characters that have bitter thoughts here and there, that gather the courage to live whatever hand they’ve been dealt, that go on and hope regardless of how the world has soured them. Loved it.
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
W.W. Norton & Company