Sunday, May 19, 2019


Mary Miller grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the author of two collections of short stories, Big World, and Always Happy Hour, as well as the novels The Last Days of California and Biloxi. Her stories have appeared in The Paris Review, the Oxford American, New Stories from the South, Norton's Seagull Book of Stories, The Best of McSweeney’s Quarterly, American Short Fiction, Mississippi Review, and many others. She is a former James A. Michener Fellow in Fiction at the University of Texas and John and RenĂ©e Grisham Writer-in-Residence at Ole Miss. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi with her husband, Lucky, and her dog, Winter.

Miller applied the Page 69 Test to Biloxi and reported the following:
From page 69:
I got into bed and tried to get comfortable, flopped about. I’d placed Layla’s bed right next to mine so I could drape an arm over and pet her, though I worried I might step on her when I got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. I imagined the sign and the balloons going up at the hands of Harry Davidson’s wife, the small pretty hands of his wife, who hadn’t been able to stand the gagging or the shedding—the hair had already gathered under every one of my tables, retreated into every corner of the house. I fell asleep recounting the details of her: sharp elbows and the lightning bolt on her leg, her pretty hands and PINK shirt, short shorts, dark bra, mousy ponytail. Walking her up and down her driveway, back and forth.
In the novel’s opening scene, Louis stops at a house advertising ‘free dogs’ alongside a couple of drowsy balloons and meets Harry Davidson. Davidson claims to have more than a dozen dogs, but offers only one: an overweight mixed-breed he calls Layla—a prolific shedder with a gagging problem. For reasons he can’t fathom, Louis feels compelled to take her.

While I figured page 69 would be representative of the book, it’s surprising to find it recalling the scene that kicks it off so explicitly. This passage also reflects what’s to come: Louis’s growing obsession with this stranger’s wife. Earlier in the day, he returned to the house to see if the balloons were still there and sees the woman for the first time. Transfixed by this unremarkable yet eccentric creature, he’s already plotting a way to meet her, which sets off the primary conflict of the book.

Though an understated passage—a man in bed—it’s also central to the book’s theme: Louis’s fondness for oddball and dejected characters, and his extraordinary ability to find trouble.
Visit Mary Miller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue