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February 19, 2009

Book Notes - Mary Miller ("Big World")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published books.

This past weekend I ran a contest asking readers what book they would like to have in a pocket-sized edition. The over 140 responses made me think, what book would I want to slip in my back pocket?

Mary Miller's Big World would be a good choice. At 4"x6", it easily fit in my jeans back pocket and the stories were filled with sharp dialogue and an incredible amount of emotional tension that always brings her humanly flawed characters to life.

Time Out Chicago wrote of the book:

"If you’re not ready to commit to reading e-books on your iPhone, you could practically fit Big World—published as part of Hobart’s Short Flight/Long Drive series—snugly into your iPhone case as a simulation. But putting aside the physical size of the book, inside we find characters confined in small towns and the agonizingly small expectations such places generate."

In her own words, here is Mary Miller's Book Notes essay for her short fiction collection, Big World:

Disclaimer: Most of the music I listen to is circa 1995, the year I graduated high school. Somehow I stopped collecting CDs after this and I'm not very tech-savvy so my iPod holds whatever songs my little brother puts on it, which are pretty good but not very motivating at the gym. My sister is horrified by my CD collection. There's no David Bowie, no whatever else it takes to make a person cool. My collection consists primarily of Ben Folds Five, The Cranberries, The Cure, and Pearl Jam. What I'm saying is that I'm going to try and make this list as decent as possible but it will probably suck. I don't even know enough about music to ensure that it will suck.


"Leak": "Monkey Gone to Heaven" (The Pixies)

According to Wikipedia, this song is about environmentalism but I'm just going to pretend it's about death and heaven and a probably metaphorical monkey since environmentalism was pretty much unheard of in Mississippi in 1989, which is the place and year this story is set, as well as the year of Doolittle's release. I doubt the narrator will listen to The Pixies until about 1993, however, which is also the year she'll start smoking cigarettes and letting boys feel her up after she's had too many wine coolers.


"Even the Interstate Is Pretty": "Fate of the Human Carbine" (Cat Power

I'm obsessed with this song, about a man who comes home from work and turns on the TV: "[He] watches the film about the evening sky/It was someone else's dream." It reminds me to keep writing because I like to write, but also because I don't want to be watching somebody else's dream all the time. The narrator in this story, Audrey, reminds me of the man in the song. A lot of the characters in my stories are like the man in the song—all they can do is sit and watch their lives pass them by.


"Fast Trains": "Jodie" (Saves the Day)

Like the couple in this song, the characters in this story would like to let each other go but can't because they love each other. I don't think I made this clear but they do. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's not clear. This is my fault. I love this song. It makes me want to dance in my car. The story doesn't make me want to dance in my car but I like it for reasons I don't want to get into and which you can probably all figure out.


"Pearl": "Westby" (Kathleen Edwards)

Both of these couples are in hotel rooms. The men are both married older drunks and it's basically the exact same scenario except Jillian doesn't steal Robert's watch. Like me, my narrators don't steal. It sort of looks like I stole this song, though. This is eerily creepy: The girl in the song is "a little bleeder with white pants on," and Jillian is also wearing white pants, her period set to start. Maybe this means Kathleen Edwards and I should be best friends forever.


"Aunt Jemima's Old Fashioned Pancakes": "Popular" (Nada Surf)

Leann isn't happy being popular. She's just dumped the boyfriend she likes because he's in the band and her friends can't have their friend dating a band nerd. She's not rich enough or pretty enough and she still uses her childhood spend-the-night bag that has a yellow balloon on it. I was a bit like Leann—trying to find the party but mostly riding around with my friend Ashley eating Junior Whoppers on Friday nights—and then I came to the realization that all my friends were assholes and I hated them and I found some real friends. My life was a lot better after that.


"Temp": "Jolene" (Dolly Parton)

This one is a copout. "Jolene" is playing in the truck while the narrator is on the way to Jason's house and I needed an easy one. I love Dolly Parton. She's just the cutest little peanut. I was going to try and work "Hard Candy Christmas" into this list but it seemed a bit forced. I love the idea of a "hard candy" Christmas, though. It makes me think of poor people with a box of KFC and a styrofoam container of too-smooth mashed potatoes. There, I did it.


"My Brother in Christ": "Bleeders" (The Wallflowers)

I like it when Jakob Dylan sings, "Well I did the best I could I guess/But everything just bleeds." It sounds really cool.


"Big World": "American Girl" (Tom Petty)

"American Girl" makes me want to dance my balls off. I know, I don't have balls. Whatever. I shouldn't have read the lyrics, though, because now all I can think about is the "one little promise she was gonna keep." We never find out what it is, which is a problem, in my opinion. This song reminds me of being an undergraduate in college, dancing to my brother's band at Rick's Cafe in Starkville, Mississippi. I'd hang out backstage and drink free beer and flirt with the drummer because lead singers were too obvious but more importantly not interested. If they had been interested I doubt I would have found them so obvious. Anyway, they'd play this song and my friend Jane and I would go crazy, all of which has nothing to do with "Big World" except that the feel is right. And how perfect is this?: "After all it was a great big world."


"Full": "Don't You (Forget About Me)" (Simple Minds)

Also a copout because this song is mentioned in the story. I'm not crazy about this song even though it makes me want to have an eighties movie festival and hook up with a young Andrew McCarthy.


"Animal Bite": "The Scientist" (Coldplay)

Coldplay reminds me of my ex-husband. He didn't like them, called them coldplate. I think he felt this way about all my music, though he was stuck in the nineties, too. He was just on the Nirvana end of things. This story makes me kind of sad because my ex-husband was a great guy and our lives were sort of like this (minus the messing around with the boss part). I was mostly unemployed and stuck-feeling, which wasn't his fault. It's just the way it was. I'm going to go cry now.


"Not All Who Wander Are Lost": "Sweet Marie" (The Anniversary)

The narrator, Kate, doesn't have "a hole where [her] heart should be." She's just lost, blah, blah, blah. I'm in the process of listening to this song until I can no longer listen to it ever again.

Mary Miller and Big World links:

the author's MySpace page
the publisher's page for the book
Goodreads page for the book
Goodreads page for the author
Esquire review
Time Out Chicago review

HTMLGIANT profile of the author
Storyglossia flash fiction by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2008
Largehearted Boy Favorite Graphic Novels of 2008
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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