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Eric B. Miller
Little Known Stories, Prose in Format
One life ends, another goes on. Little Known Stories is an account of these two lives, of forty years together and the unfinished business death leaves in its wake. It is a story that matches the character of life, where the commonplace holds sway, where tragedy cannot be avoided, and humor cannot be helped. It is also an appreciation of a life that sought a place for itself in the world, and by a bad turn of fate, instead found its way here.
This aching collection from Miller (Hula Girls) shares intimate dispatches from a widower’s life in the aftermath of the death of his wife. “The difference between divorce and death,” Miller writes, “is a closet full of clothes. / Half of everything is still here.” These poems find him still stunned, pushing through his waking hours until bedtime, when he figures “I did enough heart-breaking things / for one day.” His life, like the closets, is still hers, and Miller writes with pained grace and precision about missing laughing in bed or feeling impatient as she told a long story. Poems that capture the disorientation of life without her also toast, often wittily, the couple’s quirks: “It’s a good thing she isn’t here to see it,” Miller writes, of his efforts at handling the complex arrangements that come with the death of a spouse: “As a general rule, / she would not want to trust me / with stuff like that.”

Those lines—direct, unfussy, pared to the bone—exemplify Miller’s approach. Sometimes, he’s conversational, as in these pleading lines addressed to concerned friends and family: “I know. / It’s been almost two years. / I know, I should get out, meet people, travel”. The poetic forms and the accumulation of striking detail over dozens of poems imbue such everyday speech with fresh resonance and weight. Little Known Stories is an immersion in and exploration of grief, and Miller’s too honest—too scrupulous a reporter of experience—to promise the epiphanies of recovery narratives.

The result is a rare portrait of a sort of afterlife, days haunted by an absence. At times the verses find him feeling utterly bereft, as when he wonders “why people want to live so long /after losing what they could not live without.” Celebrating his Lisa—her artistry, her achievements, their shared rituals—seems to help. His portrait of her is as rousing as his unblinking account of grief is wrenching. The richly moving result is both a celebration of love and an act of it, too.

Takeaway: Richly moving, pared-to-the-bone poetry of a widower’s grief.

Comparable Titles: Jacqueline Lapidus and Lise Menn’s The Widows’ Handbook, Katherine Billings Palmer’s I Wanted to Grow Old with You.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Starred Review

A collection of poetic vignettes detailing a lifelong love, a terminal illness, and an unbearable absence.

These detailed poems provide readers with a nonlinear voyage through the author’s memories, jumping between his present solitary state and the relationship he shared with his late wife, Lisa. Often the reader receives glimpses of his spouse in works that reference her boundless imagination, her determination to work and create, and the sadness that plagued her throughout her 60 years. As a result, the collection becomes not just a chronicle of the author’s grief, but also an effort to offer a complete portrait of Lisa, pulled from memories that become increasingly difficult to grasp with time.

Readers join the author in his struggle to hold onto his wife as he loses himself in all that they shared. This late-in-life grief is portrayed as a gutting transformation—a death in and of itself:

As far as the good life I was supposed to have,

I let myself believe it once…. 

Foolish expectations

dug a big hole.

I climbed in

and folly was more than happy

to cover me over.

The strength of the collection originates in the sense of understanding and awe it forces upon its readers, revealing how one is unable to distance oneself from the pain inherent in love and grief; they’ll be struck with the certainty that they’ll one day experience both. To combine simplicity with artistry is a demanding task, and it’s one that few works can accomplish. Such a balance pulses throughout these stories, which are as stark and complex as loss itself.

A beautiful and piercing look at grief handled with delicacy.

[Reviewed Feb. 14, 2023]