Mary Miller offers a brutal and honest look at one breed of contemporary young women in her collection, Always Happy Hour. With stark consideration, Miller pulls the veil back from these seemingly rough women and shows us the pain beneath the surface. These are stories that do not shy away from “bad behavior,” nor from feelings. There is a rawness to them that leaves the reader with the feeling of an intellectual rug burn: it hurts, but you can't help but admire it.
Each story shows a slice of a woman's life, a woman dependent on some relationship, and the seemingly bad choices she makes. There was maybe one exception, but for the most part these stories followed the same thread. Halfway through the collection, the expectation is established and the formula becomes somewhat trite. Even the self-deprecating thoughts of each protagonist were horribly similar. Contained in 256 pages, it works, though readers who balk at hints of depravity will likely cease reading before reaching the end.
Here's the thing about Always Happy Hour: the lack of variety may go on a bit too long, but it's largely a success. Yes, all the lead characters share a similarity from story to story. Yes, there is an obvious theme at play here. And as I was reading, I was reminded of Junot Díaz. It's clear that Díaz is going to have a hell of a time getting away from Yunior or any character that resembles him. If he ever does, I suspect critics will tear the work apart. Díaz has typecast himself because he had a great character and a wonderful theme and he was excited to stay in that world. Miller's protagonists remind me considerably of Yunior: they're crass, their actions can be repulsive, and yet you see their humanity and feel something for them. Many readers assume Yunior is a reflection of Díaz and it seems, from Díaz's interviews and appearances, that the two truly share little. Whether Miller is like or not like the characters of Always Happy Hour doesn't matter, but what might matter is how her readers view her. It's evident in the talent shown here that Miller is very close to these characters, but I can see how that might lead to similar results as Díaz has experienced with Yunior. Of course that means there may be a Pulitzer in the future for Miller, but I hope it's not at the risk of her boxing herself in first.