Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 36.
- Review Date: 2007-10-08
- Reviewer: Staff
Millet proves no less lyrical, haunting or deliciously absurd in her brilliant sixth novel than in her fifth, the acclaimed Oh Pure & Radiant Heart. As a boy, T. keeps his distance from others, including his loving but vacant parents, preferring to explore his knack for turning a dollar. Before long, he's a wealthy but lonely young real estate developer in L.A. Just after he adopts, on impulse, a dog from the pound, his mother shows up and announces that T.'s father has left her. His mother, increasingly erratic, moves in; meanwhile, T. finally meets and falls in love with Beth, a nice girl who understands him, but a cruel twist of fate soon leaves him alone again. As his mother continues to unravel, T. finds unexpected consolation in endangered animals at the zoo, and he starts breaking into pens after hours to be closer to them. The jungle quest that results, while redolent of Heart of Darkness and Don Quixote, takes readers to a place entirely Millet's own, leavened by very funny asides. At once an involving character study and a stunning meditation on loss—planetary and otherwise—Millet's latest unfolds like a beautiful, disturbing dream. (Jan.)
What we've lost
From the first page of Lydia Millet's new novel, How the Dead Dream, you can tell that her protagonist, Thomas (known as T), tends toward obsession. He studies the faces of dead presidents on dollar bills with an intensity and reverence unusual, to say the least, in a six-year-old. He keeps his money closeoften in his mouth, to his mother's consternation. But to T, the faces of Jackson and Hamilton are neither figureheads nor simple currency. Idealized in green, they represent the sublime potential in humankind.
T's almost religious view of the institutions of government and finance, especially the latter, defines his young life. Reserved, purposeful and never distracted by the social dramas that afflict his classmates, T subtly and successfully maneuvers in various markets to surround himself with money. After college, his first big project is a fast-and-cheap retirement community in California. He falls in love with the perfect woman, and they cruise the manicured streets of the project in T's pristine Mercedes, the future sure and bright.
But uncertainty creeps in. T's parents drift away, his colleagues seem offensive. Then disaster strikes, and his world cracks open. Mourning a tragic loss, T begins to notice other irreplaceable losses. Slowly, his obsession turns from those who direct the making of the concrete world to those who are made extinct by it. Fixating on animals that are the last of their kind, T starts breaking into zoos at night to ponder the cosmic loneliness of the almost extinct.
It's to Millet's credit that the reader's sympathy never flags, that the suffering of a selfish, greedy fortune-builder remains heartwrenching. The intelligent, sharp-humored charm of her narrative voice aligns the reader with T from the start. In lyrical passages that trace T's deeper musings, Millet makes the personal universal, raising the stakes so that each realization has the weight of a revolution. And, like all revolutions, it's an untidy process, leaving the future uncertain.
Becky Ohlsen is a freelance writer in New York City.