Excerpt from The Last Days of California by Mary Miller, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Last Days of California

A Novel

by Mary Miller

The Last Days of California by Mary Miller X
The Last Days of California by Mary Miller
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 256 pages
    Sep 2014, 256 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Morgan Macgregor

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Last Days

It was Wednesday and we hadn't even made it to Texas yet. We'd been sleeping late, swimming during daylight hours, but we were going to have to move if we wanted to make it to California in time.

In a shitty little town in Louisiana, which was full of shitty little towns, we stopped at a Waffle House and sat at the counter. My father liked to sit at counters because he liked to be among the people—you couldn't just ask if they'd been saved, you had to win them over first, had to make them like you—but there was no time left for niceties. He had brought along a bundle of tracts that said "All Suffering SOON TO END!"

When the waitress asked how we were doing, he handed her one.

"The world is passing away," he said, "but those who do the will of God will remain forever."

In response, she set a tiny napkin in front of him with a knife and fork on top. Then she moved down the line: my sister, Elise, and my mother and me.

I watched my father, who was looking around pleasantly to see if there was anyone who might be willing to talk to him. There wasn't. There hardly ever was. He was either preaching to the choir or trying to convert the unconvertible, but it didn't stop him from going through the motions—the futility of it was central, necessary. He didn't really want all 7 billion people on the planet to be saved. We wouldn't be special then. We wouldn't be the chosen ones.

I set my elbows on the counter. It was sticky with syrup, and I liked that this Waffle House was like every other Waffle House I'd ever been to. I knew where the bathroom was and what I wanted to eat and what it would taste like.

I peeled my elbows off the counter and looked at them.

"Excuse me, miss," my mother said, too quietly for the waitress to hear her. "Excuse me," she said again, louder.

The waitress came over and stood in front of us. She was tall and hulking and had a missing tooth, or maybe it was just a large gap—the space didn't seem quite big enough for a tooth. I stared at her openly. She was ugly and I wasn't afraid of ugly people.

"This counter is sticky," my mother said, touching it with her finger.

The waitress left and came back, wiped it off with a dirty-looking rag.

Elise dug around in her purse and pulled out her lip gloss. She smeared it on her bottom lip and top lip and pressed them together. It was almost obscene, watching her put on makeup. Boys frequently told me she was a knockout and then waited expectantly for my response. Of course there was nothing to do but agree. She was a knockout and I wasn't. What was there to say about it?

"Why don't y'all go clean up?" our mother asked. Neither Elise nor I said anything. We didn't respond to suggestions, only direct orders.

I brought my hands to my face. "Clean as a whistle," I said.

"I wonder where that saying comes from," my sister said. "Whistles aren't clean, they're full of spit." She got out her phone and Googled it, and I watched her face as she read, the dents at the tops of her eyebrows. "?'One possibility is that the old simile describes the whistling sound of a sword as it swishes through the air to decapitate someone, and an early nineteenth-century quotation suggests this connection: a first-rate shot, his head taken off as clean as a whistle.'?"

She hopped off her stool and I turned to watch her go, ponytail and hips swinging. It was how she walked down the halls of our high school. She never looked at anybody and made people call her name again and again before turning. She was wearing her King Jesus Returns! t-shirt with a pair of shorts that were so short you couldn't tell she was wearing them. I saw a man watching her, too, a mean-looking little man with a girl on his lap. The girl was skinny with big joints and glasses, one arm choking a ratty stuffed animal. He pulled her thumb out of her mouth and she put it back and he pulled it out and she put it back in again. I looked around at the other diners: they were all hideous. I could live easily in a town like this.

Excerpted from The Last Days of California: A Novel by Mary Miller. Copyright © 2014 by Mary Miller. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The American Road Trip Book

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Calypso
    by David Sedaris
    David Sedaris' Calypso is every bit as hilarious and irreverent, as clever and incisive, as ...
  • Book Jacket: The Word Is Murder
    The Word Is Murder
    by Anthony Horowitz
    A wealthy widow enters a London funeral home to make arrangements for her own funeral. Six hours ...
  • Book Jacket: Call Me American
    Call Me American
    by Abdi Nor Iftin
    As a boy growing up in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, Abdi Nor Iftin loved watching action ...
  • Book Jacket
    Driving Miss Norma
    by Ramie Liddle, Tim Bauerschmidt
    In my cultural life, I've met and been awed by two Normas: The demanding, clueless, fiercely ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

From a dazzling new literary voice, a debut novel about a Palestinian family caught between present and past.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Place for Us
    by Fatima Farheen Mirza

    A deeply moving story of love, identity and belonging--the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win If You See Me, Don't Say Hi

If You See Me, Don't Say Hi by Neel Patel

Patel's stories introduce a bold and timely new literary voice.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

A P Saved I A P E

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.