Gary Percesepe is an editor at the Mississippi Review.
She’s a screw-up or a slut or a slacker, what used to be called Trouble with a capital T. She’s not a waitress or a girlfriend or a friend or someone you’d be able to take your eyes off. What we don’t know is her name, until the story is nearly told, and it is revealed by one of Mary Miller’s most delightful characters, the unlikely Norbert. (“What kind of name is Norbert?” he says. I shrug. “But if you picture a guy named Norbert he probably looks exactly like that.”)
Her name is Kate. She loves Beth (she of the permanent markered jeans, lettered with the title of the story, and a Chinese tat for luck “but so far, that’s for shit”), but she’s fucking Arthur, and fucking with Bee or Billy, or Traci or Tim, and, well, Norbert.
“Not All Who Wander Are Lost” is a tale of a pretty girl who’s down on her luck but still willing to draw the next card.
When Jürgen Fauth asked me to write a blurb for the Fictionaut blog featuring a story I particularly liked, I knew I would pick a Mary Miller story. I also knew it would be this one. I chose Miller (a graduate student at the Center for Writers, University of Southern Mississippi) because she puts me in mind of where the culture was in the mid 1970s, when a young writer named Ann Beattie was writing exquisitely observed stories in the New Yorker that somehow seemed necessary, like urgent bulletins from the trailing edge of American culture that called to a new generation of Americans who felt bewildered and a little lost. What Beattie did for the 1970s and 80s Miller is doing now, on the slant side in this “economic downturn” when expectations for life and work and love have been drastically downsized. With sentences that feature a persistent downward tug to our reluctant hearts, Miller gives us her tales of women—always women—coping, groping, hustling, enduring, yet somehow hoping.
So, it was Mary Miller, but which story? I chose “Wander” because I like its length. Miller’s short shorts on Fictionaut are little epiphanies that flash and wink on the page, with a few sly ‘millerisms’– jokes and feints and tossed off/sawed off sentences that delineate in a few hundred words the shape of a world moving at the speed of sound. But the shorter stories, like so many of their kind on Fictionaut (a site I have come to enjoy and hold every good wish for) feel to me like bright shiny surfaces, like the counter at McDonalds that gets wiped off at the end of the shift—they are wiped clean in my memory.
So here is a story with some heft, one that takes up some space and pays its way. It’s a delight to see Miller working at this length (the story weighs in at just under 9800 words). It’s the last story featured in Miller’s new palm-sized collection, Big World, just released by Short Flight/Long Drive Books (a division of Hobart). So settle in for a longer read, move your mouse, scroll on down. Or print the story out and take it to bed. As Kate says (meaning: in her pretty head), “It’s good in here.”