by Norene Smith
A little girl who's allergic to the sun plays with her dolls in the dark. An empty pill bottle rolls around on the floor of an old car. An emaciated dog limps in the snow.
Out of small pieces of ordinary lives, Mary Miller creates a truly Big World. Her mini-book of 11 short stories is a gathering of people — mostly young — who are so lonely and lost they don't even realize it. But, for the reader, their confusion and searching are clearly defined by the way they get drunk, get their noses pierced, or make love to strangers.
The first story, "Leak," was published in the anthologies, New Stories from the South 2008 and Best American Short Stories 2008. In it, a daughter grows up and grows more alienated from her widower father, who's afraid of her becoming a woman. His parental role only goes as far as keeping the refrigerator stocked and buying her a five-ingredient cookbook.
"My father wanted a boy, like the fat kid named Darrell. You could clonk him on the head and teach him to shoot guns and skin animals and as long as he didn't turn out to be faggot, things were easy."
Miller's great at turning the mundane inside out and letting the world see its guts. She's also adept at creating natural dialogue that makes reading her characters' conversations feel a little like eavesdropping. A sad, naive disconnect runs through all the stories in the collection.
Big World is the second book and first work of fiction to come out of Short Flight/Long Drive Books, a publishing arm of the independent literary journal Hobart, based in Ann Arbor.
Norene Smith writes about books for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.