Book Review: Meredith Miller's Little Wrecks
In Highbone, Long Island America, Magda, Ruth and Isabel are on the threshold of adult life. Drawn together by a refusal to ignore the dark truth festering beneath the surface of their town’s twee exterior, their teenage existence seems to consist of nothing more than stifling inequality, painful lies, dangerous men, and false promises of the American Dream. Highbone is a place of swimming pools and middle-class façade, its injustices concealed by a comfy domesticity which is unable to contain the rate at which three young girl’s minds are expanding. These free-thinking trouble-makers, at odds with their town, are the gutsy protagonists of Meredith Miller’s debut novel, Little Wrecks.
Amidst a market proliferated by similarly plot-driven bildungsroman’s aimed at young readers, this premise may appear typical young adult writing, but Miller’s searingly honest and often abstract prose transcends the stereotypes of YA fiction. Whole chapters are devoted to the post traumatic ramblings of Vietnam veterans who can only fathom the world through poetry, providing a madness the girls accept as an insight into their own reality. ‘“Little mountain man,” Lefty says. He waves back, that lovely little poem of a boy. He belongs to his holy harlot sister. The one who’s carrying things behind her eyes.’ As well as counselling conversations with the fleeting, sage-like Mackie which can rip apart Ruth’s perception of space and time. These forays into conceptual writing do not, however, weaken the starkness and brutality of Miller's plot. With a lack of lingering romance and clear-cut resolutions, Miller does not step away from the difficult topics of sexual assault, murder and violent moral ambiguity.
‘Once Isabel feels full up with fear and power, she takes a long, last breath and time starts up again. One more swing and his head drops.’
The girls contend with mentally ill and violent parents, absent fathers, sexual assault, working-class issues, and mothers who’ve fled the nest in search of solace from this stifling reality. In and amongst this, the girls are left contemplating the absurdity of it all and the double meaning in everything, a double meaning which only they appear to be able to see. By deciding to commit a seemingly unnecessary crime, Magda, Ruth and Isabel attempt to reclaim their existence; for themselves, for their mothers, and in defiance of the absurdity of it all.
From young drug dealers and former young carers who’s lack of parental love leaves them searching for mothers in the faces of their customers, to traumatised housewives who hide behind the folds of their furniture at night, in search of meaning and a connection with a world they once thought they understood. Little Wrecks gestures towards the wider implications of what it means to conform to a model of humanity which disregards so many. Miller writes candidly of the darker side of girlhood, and the paradox of both desiring and despising the male gaze as a result. A strong feminist message forms the backdrop to Little Wrecks’, articulating a myriad of experiences which will resonate with girls, women and people of all ages. Consequently, Magda, Ruth and Isabel become echoes of a shared past, whose search for poetic justice is draped in adolescent anarchism, modern gender politics, and an insight into the minds of the marginalised. Little Wrecks reminds its readers that sometimes the world is the problem which needs fixing, not them.
by Holly King