Real estate—and the anxiety and disruption that often come with moving house—drives this linked collection of Los Angeles–set tales.
Millet has used broken relationships as a launchpad for austere, absurdist fiction (Magnificence, 2012; Sweet Lamb of Heaven, 2016) and laugh-out-loud farce (Mermaids in Paradise, 2014). Here, her attack is more compassionate and realistic, but she can still bring the weird: In one story, a woman believes her home is being overrun by “handyman midgets” who arrive unsolicited to make repairs; how much of this is real and how much is the panicked vision of a woman who’s just been abandoned by her husband is intentionally vague. The central (and more grounded) figure in these stories is Nina, a real estate agent who must bear witness to the vicissitudes and cruelties of her clients: the famous musician who tries to drown himself in the pool of one home; the rebellious teen determined to force potential buyers to witness unmistakable evidence of his masturbatory habits; the wealthy, arrogant man who’s led his mistress to believe she’s his fiancee. Nina herself can’t find a professional distance from these shenanigans, falling for a member of the musician’s entourage in a relationship that ends tragically. Changing homes brings out our generosity and monstrousness in equal measure, Millet seems to suggest, an idea she explores most potently in a trio of stories featuring Lexie, a teenage sex worker whose safe job as an au pair is threatened by her sexually abusive stepfather. Those stories are especially strong because Millet so readily shifts point of view—by turns she can be a snotty rich kid, a pedophile, and a lower-class cam girl striving to rise above her station. And though Millet has never been much for easy uplift, the collection ends with the sense that our lives can find some kind of order if we acknowledge the forces that disrupt them.
A linked-story collection done right, with sensitive and complex characters each looking for a place to call home.