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Always Happy Hour: Stories


Always Happy Hour: Stories

The first entry in Mary Miller’s short story collection, ALWAYS HAPPY HOUR, is titled “Instructions,” and in many ways instructs and guides readers to the types of stories that follow. In it, a woman is left to housesit for her boyfriend and take care of his cats. She is lonely without him yet seems distant from her feelings for him, lost as she wanders his apartment but with no place else she’d rather be. She’s afraid of losing him and fears that the cat, impossibly, swallowed a razor blade. She reassures him, and herself, that they are happy, that “there are no great storms here.”

This is one of the more delicate stories in ALMOST HAPPY HOUR, but the protagonist shares much in common with the other women who populate the book. They are lonely, dissatisfied, bold yet insecure, and Miller’s treatment of them is fascinating. She writes with a clipped yet fluid style and an unflinching honesty.

"ALWAYS HAPPY HOUR is dark, but not morose and rarely bitter.... Miller’s writing is confident and presents readers with narratives that are frightening and sexy, interesting and entertaining."

“Uphill” is a characteristic tale, describing the tense relationship of a shady and desperate couple who decide to assist, by taking a picture of a lady they’ve never met, in her execution. The woman’s willingness to participate is complicated, and her reasons are never fully articulated by Miller, though we do know that her relationship with her mother is less than comforting. When the man returns from taking the picture, and even as she takes him into bed, she is imagining the end of their relationship and the physical distance she will put between them. “This is not my life,” she tells herself.

In “Dirty,” the narrator worries that the videos she makes with her boyfriend will end up on the internet. She doesn’t work, spending her time waiting for him to come home when they will hang out with their only other friend. Ironically, she doesn’t want to attach herself to the “sad, impermanent lives of others.” Like so many figures in these stories, she is needy and passive, but Miller does show a certain amount of compassion for her characters: these women are not unkind or stupid, just stuck. They are, in fact, capable of great insight and great love. Alice, the narrator of two tales, is doing her best to navigate a relationship with her boyfriend and his four-year-old son for whom she has a genuine but complicated affection.

“Big Bad Love” is perhaps the most striking story here. It tells of a woman and her growing affection for the troubled girl she works with at a children’s shelter. Diamond has suffered great unnamed but implied abuse and is considered too difficult for regular home placement. Even when she does get taken from the shelter to a more domestic setting, she is returned in less than a week, to the chagrin and quiet happiness of her primary caregiver. It is such a heartwrenching, sorrowful and sweet story, showcasing Miller’s talent for capturing the ordinary and complex inner lives of her deceptively simple characters.

ALWAYS HAPPY HOUR is dark, but not morose and rarely bitter. The mostly unnamed, even at time interchangable, women in these stories, are, like so many people truly are, their own worst enemies. They are sympathetic in their longing for companionship and acceptance, contentment, passion, and real and lasting love. Miller’s writing is confident and presents readers with narratives that are frightening and sexy, interesting and entertaining.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 20, 2017

Always Happy Hour: Stories
by Mary Miller

  • Publication Date: January 2, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright
  • ISBN-10: 1631493973
  • ISBN-13: 9781631493973