Miller (Big World, stories, 2009) puts a family on the road but doesn’t give them much to do in her aimless first novel.
You’d think that people expecting to be taken up by the rapture in three days would be a lot more cheerful than the Metcalfs are when we first encounter them in Louisiana. But it soon becomes clear that only Dad has much invested in the end of the world, and that might be because he’s lost his job again; there isn’t any other apparent reason he has insisted that the family drive from their home in Alabama to experience the rapture in California. Mom is listlessly along for the ride (readers may well feel the same), and oldest daughter Elise aggressively challenges Dad’s professions of faith at every opportunity. She’s the family’s designated bad girl, although at present, only her sister Jess, Miller’s 15-year-old narrator, knows that she’s pregnant. As they meander across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, staying in crummy motels and eating in bad restaurants, Jess worries about her weight, her sister’s pregnancy and the unanswerable enigma of why Elise is prettier and more popular than she is. The religious angle mostly gets dropped in favor of Jess’ adolescent angst; two sexual encounters with boys who actually do think she’s cute seem intended to show Jess gaining some self-respect, but they’re mostly sordid and sad. The Metcalfs witness a fatal car accident, Jess and Elise encounter some strange fellow motel visitors, but there’s no narrative drive to the events; even the rapture’s failure to happen is greeted with a shrug. This lack of affect may be the point of Miller’s deadpan narrative, which substitutes the brand names of junk food and Hollywood movies for social observation, but it doesn’t make for compelling fiction.
Drab and dreary.