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My Own Little Empire
posted May 7, 2003
Scott Mills' latest book features the kind of story that young artists working in various forms are often seduced into making. A loosely-connected group of friends and acquaintances living in the small town of Lucksburg negotiates that difficult time in life when one has adult appetites, childish tastes, and a level of personal responsibility that falls somewhere between the two. In My Own Little Empire, Mills treats his readers to an all-night concert ticket sleep-out, a restless car ride filled with arguments and idle alcohol consumption, a disappointing rock and roll show, aimless workplace theorizing, a sensitive lad in love with a bully's girlfriend, dropping acid, and roaming around an abandoned building. These are things to which readers in more than one generation can relate. Taken together, they add up to a recognizable and realistic youth experience.
Recognition can take a work only so far. As a story often told, My Own Little Empire needs to offer something unique and compelling in its execution in order to justify a reader's attention. It fails to do so, on almost every level one can imagine. Mills' minimalist approach to art leads to a narrative that resists grounding itself in interesting detail. As a result, Mills' work lacks both the description of local quirks that can make for an entertaining social document, and the degree of observation concerning familiar events that forces the reader to see them in a new way. Compounding matters, many of the characters are difficult to tell apart, both in the looseness of their visual presentation and the bland verbal stamp they share, and there is a profound lack of narrative structure. In other words, Mills adds nothing to the bare bones of a story that isn't that interesting in the first place. Reading My Little Empire is like eating pizza with a bunch of people you don't know and having them trade high school stories replete with personal shorthand and slang. You feel slightly sorry for the sheer tedium of their experiences, but mostly you just wish they'd change the subject.