Review: Hotel Hart by Meredith Miller

"It sounds too simple. Cliché. But I believe there’s an upper limit to sadness. I don’t think that exists for happiness. Loving someone with all your heart sounds worth it. It’s the best risk you could possibly make."

- Hotel Hart, p.43

Meredith Miller

To be published December 2017.

It takes a lot to believe in love. It takes a lot of emotional energy to believe in anything, but love is often elusive and unattainable. The very idea of 'true love' feels like a fairy tale we've heard too many times. True love belongs to princes and princesses, its something that Shakespeare dressed up with comedy, magic and drag so we would believe the impossible; it belongs to the dead poets and the immortal heroes. Love is exists between two people, therefore we can never truly see it for ourselves, no matter what Hollywood rolls out, we can only feel it for ourselves.

The closest we can get, I believe, is reading about it. Reading invites us to be intimate with characters and therefore their relationships. We suffer with Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower when all he wants to be the love Sam deserves; in The Great Gatsby Nick Carraway watches as a man's love is thwarted by selfishness and cruelty, and in The Time Traveler's Wife a couple's love endures impossible spaces of separation. We read these books so we can fall in love for a page count. We can repeat it and that love won't change.

In Hotel Hart, Meredith Miller introduces us to ten couples staying at the Hotel Hart, some have just arrived, some mid-stay and some are spending their last night within its walls. Miller presents us with a kaleidoscope of love, each couple presents a different kind of love. We open with a more traditional pairing: Pamela and John are married, bitter and they no longer recognize each other. Their love has changed, its falling away like the cliff edge surrounding the Hotel. John doesn't treat Pamela as a wife but as an obstacle, something to curse and correct, despite deep down wanting what is best for her. We see the reverse in eager newlyweds Johnathan and Patrice, whose similar names could be a subtle wink from the author. They are happy but Jonathan fears he is holding his new bride back and that he is not worthy of her, overcompensating by spending money he just doesn't have. My favourite couple - certainly one I could personally identify with - were Brianna and Stephen. Brianna doesn't like herself, she believes she is untouchable and cruel towards others. A great line Brianna uses to describe herself is in an imaginary text, she states "Brianna Hathaway is touched by a devil that was born in her own head, and it’s black and ugly and it looks exactly like me. I think I’m crazy, but I’m not sure" (19).

These are but a few of the powerful and very real characters in Hotel Hart. Miller expertly weaves them together as figures of grey: they are neither good or bad, they are moving through love and who they are is determined by their reactions to love. Unlike many new writers, Miller doesn't shy away from giving her characters faults. They are imperfect, human and believable. If we can't believe in the carriers of love, how are we ever meant to believe in love itself? A question Miller asks both of her characters and inadvertently her readers.

It is only once or twice we get to see both viewpoints of the couples, we also rarely get a conclusive 'ending' to these chapters, because truly is there ever an 'end' in life? The story always carries on unseen. We are denied resolutions. Brianna returns to her room, but we don't ever see Pamela join John, preferring to wander around the hotel talking to strangers about her life. They pick the environments that represent the love within themselves: Johnathan goes out into the rain because he fears his love will be washed away, but he takes Patrice with him, hoping she'll keep them afloat; Tiffany sits at the bar flirting with a man who isn't her husband Bobby, a man she cannot identify with and who is too good for her so she must behave badly; Matthew sits by the swimming pool, despite his fear of drowning, because it is preferable to being drowned by his wife's venom. We get to explore the hotel through the eyes of these lovers, so Miller never over-indulges in lengthy description, relying on circumstantial show-don't-tells and dialogue to build up her hotel, which shows a real talent for plot progression: not once are we jarred or paused by a sunset description.

The novella is only forty-nine pages long and contains an impressive conciseness. The dialogue is spot on, Miller masterfully gives her characters language that we actually use. There are no big declarations, no lengthy chunks of remorse, no unnecessary words. Similar to Hemingway, there is never an unnecessary word and we are told more by how the characters react, in what the characters don't say, than any of the prose.

While we readers might be refused resolutions, there is one consistent character who comments on the guests' love, but also aids in tying the whole narrative together. The green-tunic wearing receptionist Sanjhit watches each interaction, willing each couple to a happy ending he will never see. Each chapter is tailed by Sanjhit, we see each chapter's events reflected in him, a fellow observer, a reader who wants to believe in love.

I encourage and implore you to keep an eye out for this book, follow this author and read this beautiful book when it comes out in December on Smashwords. This short book on love won my heart and I truly believe there is something for everyone here.