Short fiction from risk-taking novelist Millet (How the Dead Dream, 2008, etc.).
These ten stories aim to erase the distinction between humans and animals. Humans are mostly represented here by celebrities, and Millet uses several real-life episodes of interspecies interaction as her starting point. She considers, for example, Thomas Edison’s electrocution of the elephant Topsy and Jimmy Carter’s humiliating encounter with a “killer rabbit.” An author who has imagined a trailer-park denizen’s quest to win the heart of the 41st president (George Bush, Dark Prince of Love, 2000) is clearly not afraid of high-concept fiction, and Millet has in the past handled potentially ridiculous conceits with mastery and verve. This time out, her use of celebrities never rises above a cute gimmick. The first story, for example, is a monologue that takes place inside Madonna’s head after she shoots but fails to kill a pheasant on her English estate. The fictional Madge has no internal consistency. This problem runs throughout the collection. Drawing closer to our animal cousins seems to have robbed Millet of her once-prodigious capacity to depict—and to sympathize with—Homo sapiens. It’s probably no coincidence that the collection’s most compelling character is a dog walker who has intense regard for his charges and little but contempt for their owners.
Noble intent, interesting idea, disappointing execution.