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How the Dead Dream: A Novel Hardcover – January 25, 2008

3.7 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Trilogy Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Lydia Millet, a social novelist with a master’s degree in environmental policy, has carved a reputation for herself by exploring difficult topics in edgy, darkly humorous works of fiction. How the Dead Dreamâ€"part philosophical meditation, part fable, and part comic escapadeâ€"argues for the importance of environmental protection as it portrays T.’s metamorphosis from coldhearted capitalist into compassionate child of the Earth. Critics differed in their opinions of T.’s character: is he a finely-wrought, sympathetic protagonist or a one-dimensional cardboard cutout? A few critics also complained about the many side plots that slow the novel’s momentum and blur Millet’s message. However, T.’s internal struggles and quest for redemption stress humankind’s responsibilities and limitations as stewards of the environmentâ€"a timely message indeed.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; First Edition edition (January 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593761848
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593761844
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #923,379 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lydia Millet is a novelist and short-story writer known for her dark humor, idiosyncratic characters and language, and strong interest in the relationship between humans and other animals. Born in Boston, she grew up in Toronto and now lives outside Tucson, Arizona with her two children, where she writes and works in wildlife conservation. Sometimes called a "novelist of ideas," Millet won the PEN-USA award for fiction for her early novel My Happy Life (2002); in 2010, her story collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2008, 2011, and 2012 she published three novels in a critically acclaimed series about extinction and personal loss: How the Dead Dream, Ghost Lights, and Magnificence. June 2014 will see the publication of her first book for young-adult readers, Pills and Starships -- an apocalyptic tale of death contracts and climate change set in the ruins of Hawaii.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the first book of a trilogy that circles around the concept/theme of extinction. The second novel, Ghost Lights, was released last year. The third, Magnificence, is still pending (scheduled for Nov release). The protagonists in the second and third books are minor characters from the first book. Millet's advocacy with endangered species and her graduate degrees in environmental policy and economics inform this novel without clamminess or preachy rhetoric. Her deft, precise language is lyrically noir and philosophical, and is plaited with satire and pathos, nuance and caricature. The dream-like narrative is ripe with imagery from the animal world. The motifs of absence, destruction and obsolescence reflect the moral decay that inhabits a capitalistic society in all its latent anxieties. It is also a rich story about the vicissitudes of the human condition.

Since childhood, T. has been a mercenary disciple of authority and financial institutions. His idols were the statesmen and presidents of legal tender. This led to a cunning acquisitiveness, scamming neighbors out of their money with his phony charities and by hemorrhaging money from bullied classmates in return for protecting them. In college, he learns the key to success, while remaining emotionally apart from others. He is the frat brother always handy with sage advice, and renders aid when they get in serious trouble. His vices are almost nonexistent, but he gladly provides rides for his drinking buddies. Everything T. does is calculated toward success.
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Format: Paperback
Before reading this book, I had no idea who this author was. Yet, within a dozen pages, I was coming to understand that I was reading something quite special. The fact that I should be so impressed by Millet's writing is all the more amazing when I reflect that the protagonist of the book is a devoted capitalist--hardly a person I would normally be drawn to. Throughout most of the book, he is simply referred to a `T'. Yet T's transformation is both poetic and spectacular.

As a boy T's principle passion is to `collect' money and stash it under his pillow at night. He receives a visceral thrill as he studies the lithographic etching on the American dollar bill. In college, he is a friend to all, but intimate with no one. It is `T' who is the designated driver, `T' who sorts out his friend's indiscretions and messy relationships. `T' himself avoids all youth's usual excesses, in favor of focusing on the market, real estate and mapping out his destiny. He is enamored with a vision of high rises, new highways, bright lights, holiday resorts, retirement homes in the desert, the creation of which will become the source of his material wealth and self-worth.

It is worth noting that the protagonist of "How the Dead Dream" is a male, and the writer female. It is the most convincing cross-gender writing I have ever come across. Never once did I doubt the authenticity of the male voice of `T'.

But what makes this novel so good? The writing to be sure, which is extremely lyrical at times, and the psychological insights Millet has which are quite breath-taking. In the end, what is most impressive, is the journey she takes the reader on. We meet `T' arch-capitalist, without a soul it seems, at first, but then gradually we see a change take place.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are a lot of well crafted contemporary novels coming down the pike about family problems, social crises, etc. and about 99% of them strike me as superfluous, self-aggrandizing exercises in which the author wants to show the reader his or her creative and intellectual might. The final result is mediocre and flaccid.

Happily, this is not the case with Lydia Millet, whose point of view is one of the most unusual, and I daresay genius, I've come across since Magnus Mills' Restraint of Beasts.

In her first novel (I will now eagerly read her other five) she has written a grotesque fable with the sensibility and pungent sense of humor found in 30 Rock and Arrested Development.

Here Millet's novel focuses on T. who at an early age develops and articulates a Machiavellian view of the world to rationalize his insatiable appetite for greed and unrestrained capitalistic enterprise. Imagine Jack Donaghy expertly played by Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock inhabiting the body of a five year old and you'll understand T.'s psychological underpinnings.

We watch T.'s devilish entrepreneurial enterprises in high school as he uses extortion to protect a sad sack kid from the bullies who beat him and steal his lunch money every day at school. Even more glorious is T.'s justification of the extortion to the bullied kid's mother. Her every question is counteracted with a high school boy expert in the ways of legalistic sophistry.

As T. grows up and excels in real estate, using his predatory insight into the minds of his clients/victims to establish his empire, he has an unexpected breach in his life when he runs over a coyote.
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