Miller’s ‘Biloxi’ included in LA Times’ ‘literary map of US’
Setting usually is a main character in Mary Miller’s work.
Having lived in Jackson, Gulfport, Starkville, Hattiesburg, Meridian and now Oxford, Miller is familiar with many of the things that make different parts of the state of Mississippi unique.
Miller tried to capture the special flavor of the Mississippi Gulf Coast in her 2019 novel “Biloxi.” The book tells the story of 63-year-old Louis McDonald, whose decision to adopt a dog named Layla might transform his life.
In addition to exploring the idea of relationships and loneliness, Miller makes the Mississippi Gulf Coast an important part of Louis’ life and the lives of the novel’s other characters.
Miller’s “Biloxi” is one of many titles selected by Susan Straight to be part of her “Library of America.” Published May 28, 2023, in the “Los Angeles Times,” Straight’s opinion piece titled “A map of 1,001 novels to show us where to find the real America” attempts to create a literary map of the United States. Straight said she came up with the idea in 2016 and has read or reread 1,001 books of fiction in an effort to produce a list that highlights special places in the U.S.
Miller’s “Biloxi” falls in the category of “Blues & Bayous, Deltas & Coasts” in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
“Susan Straight emailed me in the summer of 2021 to say she loved ‘Biloxi’ and wanted to include it in a literary map she was putting together,” said Miller, who is an assistant professor of English at Mississippi University for Women. “I always love to hear from readers, and her project sounded exciting, so I was thrilled.”
Miller said Straight asked her if she had an address in mind for the narrator’s house in Biloxi. Even though Miller said she didn’t, she knew the routes Louis drove and the places he frequented, so it was fun to pinpoint precisely where his home was located – Willow Avenue near Volunteer Park.
Miller came up with the idea to write “Biloxi” in 2016 and 2017 when she lived in Gulfport. She said she had often visited the area to see relatives and that it was interesting to explore the area on a day-to-day basis. One day she was driving with her dog and she saw a small, rather shabby house with a bunch of balloons tied to the mailbox alongside a handwritten sign advertising “Free Dogs.” She said the balloons struck her as incongruous, so she started thinking about who might have written the sign, how many dogs they had and why they were giving them away. Miller said Louis showed up later that day when she started to write and she was able to tell his story.
Miller said Louis’ story mirrors changes she was going through at the time. She said she was single, was working from home and was new to the area, so she wasn’t seeing friends often. As a result, Miller said she started to contemplate what she wanted her life to look like.
“I suppose Louis and I were lonely at the time and could relate to each other,” Miller said. “We also shared a love for our dogs. Dogs provide constant companionship and get you out into the world. I started taking my dog, Winter, on long drives, for daily walks at the beach, to parks and pet stores, etc. Wherever and whenever I could, I took Winter with me. Louis followed in my footsteps, or I followed in his, and our lives began to change in positive ways.”
To check out Straight’s literary map of the U.S., go to: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2023-05-28/american-novels-1001-literary-geography-map-states