Posted in Short Stories

Steven Millhauser: Miracle Polish

Deal Me In – Week 49

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I selected the Two of Clubs and my fourth and final Wild Card for Week 49 of my Deal Me In 2015 short story project. Deciding not to ruin a good thing, I selected “Miracle Polish”, my fourth, but probably not final, Steven Millhauser story.

I’ve said several times on this blog that a mark of a good story teller is if the reader knows where the author is headed at the beginning of the story but still wants to go there. As Millhauser opens his story, I got the sense that things weren’t going to go as well as the narrator at first thought:

I should have said no to the stranger at the door, with his skinny throat and his black sample case that pulled him a little to the side, so that one of his jacket cuffs was higher than the other, a polite no would have done the trick, no thanks, I’m afraid not, not today, then the closing of the door and the heavy click of the latch, but I’d seen the lines of dirt in the black shoe creases, the worn-down heels, the shine on the jacket sleeves, the glint of desperation in his eyes.

And so the narrator buys a bottle of Miracle Polish to get the stranger to go away. As the narrator uses the polish to shine up his mirrors he realizes that the mirror reflects something different than usual. It doesn’t reflect a younger or better looking person, but instead it reflects a person who has not had the bumps along life’s road that the narrator has had. The mirror has taken all of the world-weariness away. As the narrator sees his just-as-world-weary girlfriend in the mirror, the plot ensues.


The events that have made the narrator and his girlfriend so saddened by life is never revealed to the reader but this makes the story that much more intriguing. However, knowing that the Miracle Polish isn’t ultimately going to bring anything good gives the reader the drive to see what happens.

While this may not be my favorite Millhauser story, his great details and unusual storytelling made it worth reading. “Miracle Polish” is included in the 2012 edition of the The Best American Short Stories.  My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here. Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


2 thoughts on “Steven Millhauser: Miracle Polish

  1. Miracle Polish was my lead off story in last year’s DMI. I remember being really impressed with Millhauser’s description of the salesman at the beginning, especially how the heavy case kind of had him standing ‘on tilt.’ I also liked how he described the protagonist as a man who “had a brisk, practical relationship with his reflection.’

    I’d agree it’s not a favorite of mine as far as his stories go, but still well worth reading.

    1. I’m finding that most of what Millhauser has written is worth reading. Sometimes he’s an acquired taste but I really have enjoyed his stories.

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