This stunning new novel presents Susan Lindley, a woman adrift after her husband's death and the dissolution of her family. Embarking on a new phase in her life after inheriting her uncle's sprawling mansion and its vast collection of taxidermy, Susan decides to restore the neglected, moth-eaten animal mounts, tending to "the fur and feathers, the beaks, the bones and shimmering tails." Meanwhile an equally derelict human menagerie--including an unfaithful husband and a chorus of eccentric old women--joins her in residence.Read more...
This stunning new novel presents Susan Lindley, a woman adrift after her husband's death and the dissolution of her family. Embarking on a new phase in her life after inheriting her uncle's sprawling mansion and its vast collection of taxidermy, Susan decides to restore the neglected, moth-eaten animal mounts, tending to "the fur and feathers, the beaks, the bones and shimmering tails." Meanwhile an equally derelict human menagerie--including an unfaithful husband and a chorus of eccentric old women--joins her in residence.
In a setting both wondrous and absurd, Susan defends her legacy from freeloading relatives and explores the mansion's unknown spaces. Funny and heartbreaking, Magnificence explores evolution and extinction, children and parenthood, loss and revelation. The result is the rapturous final act to the critically acclaimed cycle of novels that began with How the Dead Dream.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-09-10
- Reviewer: Staff
Suddenly alone after the death of her husband, Susan Lindley is unmoored in Millet’s elegant meditation on death and what it means to be alone, even when you’re not, in this companion piece to How the Dead Dream and Ghost Lights. When Susan’s boss, T., goes missing in a Central American jungle, her husband, Hal, flies down to find him, a “generous” gesture that Susan sees as an “excuse to get away from her” after an “unpleasant discovery, namely her having sex with a co-worker on the floor of her office.” But when T. appears alone at the airport, bearing news that Hal has died in a mugging, Susan takes her husband’s death as “the punishment for her lifestyle.” Susan’s prickly, paraplegic adult daughter, Casey, who recently traded college for phone sex work, slips into a grief that “seemed to be shifting to melancholy,” which doesn’t help Susan assuage her guilty conscience; nor does the closeness of the relationship that begins to bud between Casey and T. But into the mourning comes an unexpected ray of light: Susan’s great uncle, whom she only vaguely remembers, wills her an enormous Pasadena estate overrun with taxidermy. Every room is filled with all manner of exotic beasts, divided into “themes.” Surprising everyone, including herself, Susan moves in and the taxidermy menagerie becomes a comfort, a way to bring order to a chaotic world, particularly when angry relatives come calling. A dazzling prose stylist, Millet elevates her story beyond that tired tale of a grieving widow struggling to move on, instead exploring grief and love as though they were animals to be stuffed, burrowing in deep and scooping out the innermost layers. Agent: Maria Massie, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (Nov.)
Lost in a mansion of the mind
Late in her new novel, describing the pronouncements of a woman with early dementia, Lydia Millet writes, “With Angela what was familiar frequently became strange, the near withdrew into the far distance and then came close again.” You could say the same of Millet herself. She’s interested in the molecular and the global, and in the mundane middle distance only as seen from a perspective that makes it wild and terrifying or glorious and unreal.
Magnificence—about a woman who inherits a mansion filled with taxidermy—is the third in a trilogy, though you don’t need to have read the others to enjoy it. In all three books, Millet forces you instantly and fully into the mind of someone you might not ordinarily like at all: a money-obsessed developer (T., in How the Dead Dream), an IRS man (Hal in Ghost Lights), and here, Hal’s adulterous wife and T.’s employee, Susan. But Millet does like them; she takes an interest, so you do, too. Turns out, up close, they’re not at all what you thought. They are the familiar made strange.
Susan, for example, probably looks from afar like any aging wife. But she is seriously cracked. Of course, she’s cracked in that particularly off-kilter, calm, sardonic Millet way. She’s the type who slides the word “technically” (also the word “pederasty”) into a description of the weather at a funeral. Her husband’s funeral. She can have a breakdown and ironic insights simultaneously, seamlessly. She is at least as funny as she is haunted.
Like its predecessors, though, the novel has weight as well as hilarity. One of Millet’s obsessions is how massive we are, as a species; globally, we take up so much room. We steamroller the earth, not noticing until it’s too late the rarity of everything we’ve trampled. The centerpiece of this book, Susan’s inherited house, becomes a museum of lost and trampled things. When she finds it, she is lost herself, and it’s almost too perfect for her to believe: “The universe showed off its symbolic perfection; the atoms bragged.” Gradually the house fills with other lost souls, lost minds, lost loves. And up close, or from very far away, they start to seem less lost than found.