If the goal of an artist is to sift through the layers of nonsense that permeate the world in order to find some truth, then a writer has to be prepared to look at the dark side of humanity. She has to be comfortable with shining a light on the negativity, the fear, the selfishness, the anxiety, all the crawling exoskeletal things that scatter when examining a person’s soul. They are a large part of what makes us human, and while they make you uncomfortable, to confront them is to overcome them. Mary Miller is unafraid to expose these darker parts.
There’s a quiet hostility to the women in Less Shiny. They desire to softly destroy, to silently devour the things around them. The characters deal with pain, betrayal and heartache but Miller presents it all without a trace of melodrama. The sentences are spare and stark. Her voice is calm, assured, unassuming.
In “April and Benny” a woman wants to sleep with a man but she is engaged to one of his friends so she figures the next best thing is to let him perform a home nose piercing on her. In “Boyfriend” a woman shares the secrets of her marriage with a man she’s having an affair with. In “A Blind Dog and a Colony of Bees” a woman accepts a ride home from a man on drugs and she imagines herself in a dark corner of his basement, pissing herself to stay warm. The image does not bother her.
Besides the writing, one of the interesting things about Less Shiny is how self contained it is. There’s a few blurbs on the back and a bio in the end pages, but for the most part it’s very matter-of-fact: a staple bound collection of 22 pages of short, short fictions. No headshot, no double title page, no back cover summery pontificating on the nature or meaning of the words therein, just the words. Much like the stories themselves, the book, as an object, reflects an aesthetic Miller wields with skill. The book does nothing to suggest the power that it holds beneath the surface. The cover is light and attractive, the artwork warm and inviting, but start to dig deeper and things become more complicated. Go even further and they begin to get dark very quickly.