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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The first book of a trilogy, June 23, 2012
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This review is from: How the Dead Dream: A Novel (Hardcover)
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. As an adult, he becomes a wealthy real estate developer, acquiring some of his clients from his former friends grateful for his past support. Money is T.'s religion.

"Currency infused all things, from the small to the monolithic. And to be a statesman the first thing needed was not morals, public service, or the power of rhetoric; the first thing needed was money. Because finally there was only a single answer. As there was only one intelligence residing in a self, as trees grew upward toward the sun, as women lived outward and men walked in insulation to the end of their lives: when all was said and done, from place to place and country to country, forget the subtleties of right and wrong, the struggle toward affinity. In the lurch and flux, in all the variation and the same, it was only money that could set a person free."

OK, you get the drift. T. worshipped money.

A few unfortunate events out of T.'s control happen. His father leaves his mother to embrace his same sex love openly, and his mother gradually declines from that end point. Furthermore, he accidentally hits and kills a coyote on the desert highway in Nevada, which plagues him periodically and is the genesis of a sea change within him.

"He saw the coyote's face, ...eyes half-closed, the long humble lines of her mouth. Any animal could be gentle while it was busy dying...That was hardly a mark of distinction. But the sorrow persisted, as though he were worrying an open cut." Eventually, he is compelled to get a dog, one that he forms a bond with over time.

Then, T. falls in love, which aids in refining his disposition from aloof and isolated to engaged and attached.

"This was how he lost his autonomy--he had moved along at a steady pace and then he was flung."

But the experience is truncated by a chilling event, and T. subsequently becomes obsessed with endangered species, particularly from learning that the paving of one of his subdivisions had displaced an almost extinct species of kangaroo rats. He becomes preoccupied by the repercussions of real estate development on animals, the expansion of cities and the utopias of convenience and consumption:

"Under their foundations the crust of the earth seemed to be shifting and loosening, the falling away and curving under itself."

T. laments the biological blight caused by economic growth, mourns the progress of civilization. Tormented, he bemoans the extinction of animals, dying in sweeps and categories. After learning locksmith trade secrets, he starts breaking into zoos at night. T. doesn't free them from their cages; he merely wants to watch them. The force of a spiritual crisis arrests him with the same possessive absorption that money used to do.

The last section of the novel concerns T.'s journey to Belize, where he owns some property he's developing into a resort. It reads with an ephemeral, ethereal quality, like a mystical epitaph, with Heart of Darkness tendrils infused throughout, and the reminder of the cyclical nature of man's imperialism.

"When a thing became very scarce, that was when it was finally seen to be sublime and lovely."

Encompassing, imaginative, and meditative, this is a must-read for literature lovers.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 24, 2012 8:45:48 AM PDT
This is truly a fantastic review, SBug, written beautifully in your unique and engaging style. I especially appreciate your reference to the trilogy of which this novel is the first. I will certainly be putting this and the other two in the trilogy on my wish list. Thank you for broadening my literary horizons. EvieG

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 24, 2012 10:32:59 PM PDT
Oh, thank you, Evie! What a lovely comment to come home to. I am reading the second book now, and it is fantastic. This is a fresh voice, an original and sharp author. Bug

Posted on Jul 17, 2012 4:43:16 AM PDT
Bug, when I finished reading this novel and wanted to stay with it longer and linger in its mood and message, I reread your review. Wow. Your review is even more brilliant, more beautiful in the second reading. I am so glad you turned me on to Lydia Millet. She possesses an extraordinary talent. I can't wait until I receive my copy of Ghost Lights: A Novel. Thank you again. Evie

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 26, 2012 11:32:05 AM PDT
Evie's been on a Millet reading frenzy and after reading your review, I am excited about checking out these books. Thanks again for adding to my stack!!! Good review.

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