As I read through K.D. Miller’s short story collection, I began to create a web of characters, drawing lines between the names that appeared on the pages of various stories. The stories are linked in the most satisfying type of way. Existing in the same world, primarily taking place in Hamilton or Sackville, the characters are connected in often obvious ways but sometimes more subtle. They show up in the same places or read the same books. The connections aren’t difficult to spot but they provide a nice continuity between the stories and made me read more alertly in order to spot them.
What really makes these stories stand out is that the characters are old. And not fifty-something old (also known as Hollywood Old) but many of them are in their eighties or nineties. And they aren’t just sitting around waiting for death. Some of them are contemplating the lives they’ve lived and the relationships they’ve had but they also live current and interesting lives. They have romantic thoughts, they contemplate their changing bodies, they have sex! Miller doesn’t shy away from taking a close look at the bodies of her elderly characters and she doesn’t soften them. She doesn’t avoid looking at all the parts and letting them honestly appraise themselves. I felt like she did a great job of demonstrating how we view our own bodies as we age. In one story, a character does AquaFit and notices how it is the younger women who hide behind their towels while the older ones have lost their shyness.
Where the collection faltered for me was in a couple of the stories where the supernatural features. None of the other stories had any hint of this and so it felt jarring, especially knowing that each of these tales existed together in the world. Aside from the creepy element, it just didn’t feel convincing. There’s a sexual element to each ghost story that I feel was probably supposed to represent something more but it didn’t quite get there. Where it worked better was in the more subtle references where it seemed more about how the deaths of those we knew and loved follow us to the ends of our lives.
In a nice bit of life imitating art, the title story of the collection is about an author who has been nominated for a prestigious literary prize for her book, titled “Late Breaking”. Miller has, of course, been long listed for the Giller Prize for this book, her own “Late Breaking”. Here’s hoping it turns out better for her than the characters in the story.