Situated in small-town North Carolina, Miller's tales, cautionary in tone, usually depict blue-collar family life and yet almost resemble old fairy tales. Her stories center around southern families and the dynamics, both loving and hostile, that move families together, separate them, threaten them, and then finally protect them. The characters in these stories--children, men and women, often husbands and wives--recognize these forces and act to salvage those they love in efforts that are often as trivial as they are heroic.
Often told from the point of view of an angry or disillusioned child, the stories of this superb collection are comic as well as tragic; others are angry and even critical. In the title story, Quint, a young boy suffering from the effects of a broken home, finds solace in Sparkle Plenty, the baby doll with deep double dimples, big eyes, and long white-blond hair who lives in the Dick Tracy comic strip and beckons Quint to live forever with her in the funny papers. In "My Spanish Skirt," Laramie envies her friend's skirt because of its magical power to charge her imagination--her only escape from the deadly combat taking place between her parents. But Laramie soon discovers that the skirt only causes more confusion and sorrow and anger.
All of the stories manifest a genuine love for southern families and the people who are caught, confused, and eventually encouraged and sustained within them. As Thomas Hardy once observed, "Our personal griefs and triumphs are often absurd to other people." But rather than making fun of her characters, Heather Ross Miller is sympathizing as deeply as she can imagine: "These things are only manageable with a bit of humor, even with a caustic flavor. So, as in the funny papers, things can work out, with humor, with plain sense, and, if we are lucky, a bit of magic."