HOW THE DEAD DREAM by Lydia Millet


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A story of extinction from Millet (Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, 2005, etc.).

As a boy T. collects donations for charities that don’t exist and serves as middleman for schoolyard protection rackets. In college he joins a fraternity not for community but for connections, and he remains apart from the debauchery. His brothers mock his monastic tendencies, but they appreciate his clear head and powers of persuasion when, say, frat-party rape victims need to be talked out of pressing charges. As an adult T. is a real estate speculator. He has fulfilled the promise of his youth, which is to say he has achieved the apotheosis of human greed and narcissism. Events conspire, however, to disturb his cool self-interest. His father leaves his mother. His mother descends into dementia. And he hits a coyote with his very expensive car, killing it. T. becomes his mother’s caretaker. He tries to communicate with his father. He adopts a dog. He falls in love with a girl named Beth. Transformed by these connections, T. becomes passably human, but he is undone once again by Beth’s sudden death. T. sinks into an abyss of loneliness—which deepens as his mother ceases to recognize him—and his experience makes him aware of the loneliness of animals on the brink of extinction. He becomes, if not an activist exactly, then a self-sacrificing witness to these last creatures. Millet’s latest doesn’t work as a novel—it’s exhausting and disappointing. The author seldom deviates from the expository voice, and her characters exist only in outline. She does, however, offer an interesting disputation on the meaning of life, one that posits love as the only useful response to isolation, even as it acknowledges that loss is the inevitable result of communion.

A hymn to love and an elegy for lost species, but not much of a novel.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59376-184-4
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2007


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