The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town is a short story collection with an absolutely brilliant premise- a central Pennsylvania NPR affiliate is holding an essay competition to get a sense of small town life in America. They received quite a few submissions from various towns and villages but there were 33 that told the story of a place called Uncanny Valley. All of these essays were written by hand and only contained the return address of “Uncanny Valley, PA”. These essays have been collected and presented in The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town.
Author Gregory Miller takes the reader on a guided tour of a lost town as he explores the darkest recesses of Uncanny Valley. He uses these 33 tales to paint an intricate portrait of life in Uncanny Valley complete with the local legends and folklore that seem out of place in today’s culture. The essays show Miller’s scope by covering a broad range of genres that cover everything from light hearted ghost stories to exposing the true sorrow that comes with the loss of a loved one. Miller’s wonderfully descriptive prose help make these varying themes and stories pop off the page with a loving sense of authenticity. When he describes a mysterious apparition, Miller’s character says “she hadn’t no eyes, just empty black sockets. And she smiled real wide, real wide, and her teeth was too big”. It is this simple description that brings the apparition to life- it takes it out of the book and places it in the reader’s reality. In fact, this particular line had me up for a few hours imagining the ghost knocking about my own house.
Although ghosts, rattlesnake rain and invisible dogs are fun, Miller truly excels when he explores the emotional character of the town. He is able to create soul and heart out of these pages as the citizens of Uncanny Valley suffer through the emotional rigors of small town life. Stories like “The Great Unknown” and “Richard Shute Goes Home For Dinner” do a superb job of incorporating a very human element to the proceedings, with the latter being one of the most heartbreaking short stories I’ve read in some time. Miller makes the characters so engrossing because he is able to play chameleon and actually speak from 33 different perspectives. While assuming these various identities, Miller flashes his genius through the grammatical and spelling errors that can be found littered about the collection. This, along with the use of slang, lends a certain sense of authenticity to the first person narratives. It also shows the talent of a writer who is able to vary his style 33 different times in one collection.
The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town is a nice collection. It is nice in the sense that it will leave you with a smile. It is nice like a tall glass of sweet tea on a warm summer evening. It stirs the comfortable curiosity that a child feels as he listens to his father talk about “how it used to be.” At his best Miller, harkens back to the small town wonder found in Bradbury’s best works which is a welcome departure in a genre where the status quo is blood and gore.