“The Lost Archive: Stories” by Lynn C. Miller is a rewarding read. Rewarding for a number of reasons.
Miller, a Los Ranchos de Albuquerque resident, is a storyteller who knows how to hold the interest of the reader.
These 22 short stories, some previously published, demonstrates writing that is crisp, smart, accessible and engaging.
They aren’t linked thematically. Each story is sturdy enough to stand on its own.
Three of the literary styles in the collection include the realistic, the historical and the speculative; yet they mesh without being off-putting.
Here are examples of two of the realistic stories I especially enjoy.
The first, a mere 3½ pages in length, is “Duluth.” Jackie is a young woman weary of Minnesota winters. She yearns to move to southern California, where she’s from. Her beau, George, grew up on the shores of Lake Superior, “some little town in some little inlet.” He wants to remain in Duluth. Under questioning from Jackie, George declares he doesn’t have a new love. It’s something else. No spoiler here.
The other example is “David’s Harvest.” It’s set on a farm in North Dakota and zeros in on a young girl named Kath, her brother David and their wildly aggressive, hard-drinking teen-age cousin, Eddie. The “harvest” of the story’s title carries a double meaning. Miller grew up in rural North Dakota.
Two stories in the collection are clearly historical.
One is “The Last Usher,” which Miller said is a modern retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s Gothic story “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
The other is “Words Shimmer.” It’s about the Saturday evening salons Gertrude Stein famously hosted for artists and writers at her Parisian apartment on the Left Bank in the early decades of the 20th century. Such artists as Pablo Picasso and writers such as Ernest Hemingway dropped by.
The story focuses on Stein’s growing dispute with her rigid brother Leo over which contemporary artists’ works to collect and her new-found love and soon-to-be partner, Alice B. Toklas.
Miller is quite familiar with Gertrude Stein. Miller spent 20 years giving one-person stage performances with monologues she wrote about her. Stein, an American ex-patriot, was also a poet, novelist and playwright.
And what of the speculative? A number of the stories in the collection fit neatly into this category. Two that I favor are “Pale Blue” and “Curiosities.”
“Pale Blue” tells about a 10-year-old girl who divides up the incoming mail at home. One day she sees her father slip a letter into a coat pocket. The letter is in a blue envelope with a child’s block printing. Not hers. She asks her dad who it is from. His slippery reply is “Just someone. Someone I used to know.” The girl desperately wants to find out who that unknown person is and why her dad disappears for days.
The story “Curiosities” opens with a woman, Sophie, walking on a dark downtown street of the fictional town of Smithfield. It’s almost midnight. She hears footsteps behind her. She fearfully quickens her pace and enters an unlocked shop of curiosities. The following footsteps, as it turns out, belong to her ex. The story is really about Sophie’s and the shop owner’s remembrances of her proud, beautiful mother, Gabe.
The book’s title was informed by Miller’s thoughts about the possibility that archives could refer to people’s lives and, except for the stories about Gertrude Stein and Poe, the collection is about ordinary people who in some cases are lost, as in “Where is my life going?”
Miller is cohost of a monthly Apple podcast “The Unruly Muse.” The other cohost is John Modaff, a former student of Miller’s who is a musician and sound engineer.
Their podcasts feature songs, poems and stories. Miller said the March episode includes an excerpt from her story “The Last Usher.”
Miller has written four novels, one of which, “The Day After Death,” was named a 2017 Lambda Literary Award finalist. She is a retired college professor and co-publisher of Bosque Press. Her website is lynncmiller.com.