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February 2, 2017

Book Notes - Mary Miller "Always Happy Hour"

Always Happy Hour

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

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Mary Miller's Always Happy Hour is one of the year's finest short story collections, one filled with characters so realistically portrayed they seem personally familiar.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Stellar…Miller's collection feels so true because it never glosses over the desperate or unflattering portrayals of its narrators, but neither does it exploit their faults. These stories acutely explore boyfriends, exes, poor choices, and the sad fallout of so many doomed relationships."

In her own words, here is Mary Miller's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection Always Happy Hour:

There are sixteen stories in Always Happy Hour: swimming pools and Caribbean cruises and dreams of California, stifling heat and too much time. It's the South. It was 65 degrees today in January. I'm going to skip a few.

"Instructions": "My Love Is Real," Divine Fits

This is a cruel song to put on a mix for your girlfriend—the "My love is real/Until it stops" refrain can really mess with a lady's head. The actual ex-boyfriend based on the fictional boyfriend in this story (this could get confusing) once included this song on a mix he made for me, buried three-fourths of the way through. This is an apt song for every story in the collection.

"The House on Main Street": "People Who Died," Jim Carroll Band

When the narrator calls up her ex-husband one morning, he says, "Guess who died?" She mentions an elderly neighbor, but it turns out that woman is already dead. There's quite a bit of trouble in this story, people who need to change their lives ASAP. This song is versatile; it's good to listen to when angry or exercising or getting ready for a night out.

"Proper Order": "Don't Stand So Close to Me," The Police

I love it when Sting sings, "This girl is half his age!" There's some teacher lovin' in this one. And just in case you're interested, here are 10 more songs about wanting to sleep with your teacher:

"Big Bad Love": "Concrete and Barbed Wire," Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams seems the perfect fit for a story set in a home for abused and neglected children. Also, there's a bad dog in the story and "Down in Opelousas, dogs are at the gate/And they're mean, Lord, they're mean."

"Dirty": "Folsom Prison Blues," Johnny Cash

The boyfriend in "Dirty" sings this song, doing his best to sound exactly like Johnny Cash, which irritates the narrator. These are some of my favorite song lyrics ever: "But I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die." It's like "Stagger Lee" or "Hey Joe" in that putting cold-blooded murder to music makes it okay, kind of awesome, even.

"He Says I am a Little Oven": "Southern Cross," Crosby, Stills & Nash

Because cruising and boats and "that woman girl." My narrators don't think of themselves as women: "I'm a girl. I'll always be a girl."

"Where All of the Beautiful People Go": "The Swimming Song," Loudon Wainwright III

A little upbeat for the story but such great lyrics: "This summer I swam in the ocean/And I swam in a swimming pool/Salt my wounds, chlorine my eyes/I'm a self-destructive fool, a self-destructive fool."

"Love Apples": "California," U2

I need to "search in document" and see how many times the word "California" appears in this manuscript. Every time someone dreams of a better life, a new life, it is California.

"Hamilton Pool": "Stars," Angel Olsen

No particular reason but fitting

"Always Happy Hour": "Ashamed," Deer Tick

I love this song: "I am the boy your mother wanted you to meet/But I am broken and torn with heels at my feet." I don't think my mother ever wanted me to meet Richie, though. And the refrain destroys me every time: "And oh, what a crying shame, a crying shame/What we became."

"Little Bear": "Life Like This," Kurt Vile

The husband, Kevin, is a Kurt Vile fan. He once saw him in concert and the narrator was supposed to go, too, but she was anxious and depressed that day and knew it would be super crowded and loud so she stayed at home and watched TV on the couch. She regrets it.

"First Class": "Pedestrian At Best," Courtney Barnett

I like how Barnett's just talking/yelling the lyrics: "Put me on a pedestal and I'll only disappoint you/Tell me I'm exceptional, I promise to exploit you/Give me all your money, and I'll make some origami, honey/I think you're a joke, but I don't find you very funny." Money issues in this one.

"Charts": "Almost Was Good Enough," Magnolia Electric Co.

This is a dark song. The story isn't as dark as the song, I don't think, but the narrator here feels more paralyzed than most. She has an eating disorder on top of some alcohol abuse issues and doesn't seem to have many friends or a life, really. She has a house purchased with divorce money, a cat, and her mother's voice over the phone asking, "Do you need me to come out there?" No, no, no. That will only make shit worse.

"The 37": "Maggie May," Rod Stewart

I love it when Rod sings, "MAGGIE! I WISH I'D NEVER SEEN YOUR FACE." I've thought this about so many people but I don't really mean it. There's not a single face I regret.

Mary Miller and Always Happy Hour links:

Houston Chronicle review
Kirkus review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review

The DM Online interview with the author
Electric Literature interview with the author
Jackson Clarion-Ledger interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for her short story collection Big World
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for The Last Days of California

also at Largehearted Boy:

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List of Online "Best Books of 2016" Lists

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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