In Big World, Mary Miller writes about the infinitesimal prisons that we put ourselves in daily. Each story is centered on a young woman, usually in an unsatisfying relationship with both her lover and herself, and an array of beer cans. Her stories are about the small and oftentimes ignored moments that we let slip by us. Young, mindfully foolish women, smoking cigarettes and popping Coors and expressing the great myths of the universe in the bedrooms of their boyfriends: Mary Miller writes the small, devilish truth.
“I wore short skirts and high heels and pantyhose. Pantyhose are expensive. They snagged and ripped but I couldn't bring myself to throw them out. They used to come in eggs but now it was envelopes,” (“Pearl”).
Big World is about no-good, deadbeat love affairs, the small intricacies of the beer can in a well-manicured hand, and the daily trauma of the young woman: in short, it speaks with a modern voice to the modern girl who has ever felt trapped in a life too small for living. Throughout, there’s an array of ex-husbands and boyfriends, drunken, weed-fueled nights, and surprising wisdom caught up in the palpably strange and stale night air that Miller, somehow, creates for us. She uses direct language to tell her tales—there’s no funny business, and yet, each adjective is lovingly placed, obvious and purposeful and strategic. Miller doesn’t lead us on with fanciful turns of phrase; she hits the nail on the head—which is exactly the sort of phrase she’d scorn in one of her stories. Her writing is sharp, acerbic, even, but there’s a bruised heart behind it all. It’s a wisecracking heart, sure, but all the same, it has good stuff to say, and so we listen: “We feed him shots of vodka and amaretto, to catch up, and move him around the apartment like something exquisite we have no place for,” (“Even the Interstate is Pretty”). It’s these tiny snippets of lyricism that really get to you. Miller is the master of female realism—the hard, dirty under-side of things that most people have trouble talking about, let alone recounting. But then she’ll surprise you with a turn of phrase that is so incredibly divine, so lovely, so far ahead of her sad women, like a burning star that you can only hope they find in their own sky.
Reviewed by M.B. Sellers
Publication date: 2/1/2009