I first encountered the work of Mary Mill when I was guest editor for SmokeLong Quarterly and my friend Katrina Denza suggested I check out her writing. I did and asked her to submit for the issue. She sent us this: A Blind Dog Named Killer and a Colony of Bees.
All this is to say that before I even cracked the spine of Big World I had a feeling that I’d love reading it.
And that feeling was right on. Miller can write the hell out of a story. Most (if not all–I think there may have been one in 3rd person) of the stories within the book are written in 1st person, told from the point-of-view of a self-conscious and yet feisty female narrator. These are women who understand precisely where they are on the food chain and sometimes they like just where they are, but more often than not, they’d rather be elsewhere:
She prayed to St. Jude, she told me, the patron saint of lost and hopeless causes, and I didn’t mind being lost but hopeless bothered me. Hopeless was going too far. Someone was going to have to tell her.
These women are bar flies and usually they are in bad relationships. Or these aren’t women at all, they’re lost little girls, wanting love, comfort, something. Whoever and whatever they are, the story that pulls together the common threads of this collection, is the gloriously painful title story, “Big World”:
You want it too much, I told her. You want it so much no one’s ever going to give it to you. We were tipsy and someone was dead and I was under the impression we could be honest.
They are telling the truth about all of their pain, sharing it openly, wielding it like a weapon:
I liked to say things to shock him, the truth. Like my father, he had sent me out into the big world all alone and I was going to show him how ugly it was.
You might think this book sounds bleak, but I promise it’s not. It’s funny and, at times, hopeful about the future. As it is rooted in a sense of reality, this book doesn’t try to show us a beautiful, sugar-coated world. Does not strive to show us an optimistic and wonderful world. Instead it offers us a big, ugly, real world and even then, it’s still one well worth living and surviving in.
Read this book.