IN THE FUNNY PAPERS by Heather Ross Miller


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 A debut collection from poet and novelist Miller (Gone a Hundred Miles, 1968, etc.): 14 powerful and clear-voiced stories, set in the author's native North Carolina, that seem to dance around the fine line that separates love and hate. The title here is taken from two related tales that frame the book: The first, ``Sparkle Plenty,'' concerns a boy who takes refuge in the funnies from life with an abusive father and absent mother; he eventually marries a girl who reminds him of the yellow- haired daughter of B.O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie. By the time of ``Popeye,'' this couple of dreamers, now divorced with two sons, have realized that life is nothing like the world of comics. Lost innocence is the source of much pain here, and we usually learn of it from a young girl's point of view. In ``My Spanish Dress,'' a preteen romanticizes the swirly, sequined dress her friend's single mother lets them play with. The girl in ``Billy Goat'' inadvertently reveals to her father that his brother and wife are having an affair. The six-year-old in ``Family Women'' senses that her mother's family contributes to her parents' domestic discord, which for her focuses on her simple desire for a swing. But if family can be a source of much grief, it's also ``what we get'' and ``who we are,'' as the unmarried narrator of ``Constance'' contends. Men often leave in these stories as well, driven by desire or harassed into retreat. In ``A.D.,'' an obese mother refuses to get out of bed once her husband takes off; the abandoned wife of ``A Sleeping Beauty'' dreams of her sailor's return. But there's also the park ranger's wife (``Easter Hunting'') who discovers ``the surprise of pure love'' despite her thrice-married mother's dire warnings. Brittle but sadly funny narratives that explorewith much grace and poetrythe darker side of domestic life.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8262-1031-7
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Univ. of Missouri
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1995