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How the Dead Dream Paperback – September 15, 2009
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
The main character T. (short for Thomas), seems born with a love for money, the mere touch of it, and is drawn to the great men who's pictures he sees on the bills. He grows up to become a land developer, quickly learning the rules of the game. He makes a habit of studying the real motivations behind his investors, often finding them simple and brutish. After he develops land in a native jungle he becomes drawn to what he calls "last animals," those whose lives are so close to extinction that soon they will no longer exist.
While this may be the general theme of this novel, it is so much more. It is about the love of women, of wildness and the losses we all encounter and mourn. I don't think I've ever highlighted so much in a book. The intelligent and philosophical writing penetrated my heart, will I ever be the same? I simply adore this writer and this book.
But if I’m being honest, I didn’t love this book. I loved her themes. I loved the second half of the story. But I didn’t love all of it. For me, the moments of brilliance — and there are plenty of them — make it all worth it, but I have to acknowledge my ambivalence throughout.
How the Dead Dream follows follows T., a wealthy young real estate investor, throughout his isolated life, from childhood through his 20s. For the most part he’s a callous, calculating, unlikable person — until the night that he hits a coyote with his car and it changes his life. Transformed by the experience, which allows him to acknowledge his deep existential loneliness for the first time, T. finally allows himself to open up to others, but then tragedy strikes just as he starts to fall in love.
It’s how T. deals with his grief that’s so fascinating. Feeling a deep connection to both nature and the inevitability of death, T. begins breaking into zoos to spend his time among the endangered animals. There, he observes them and feels a sense of oneness with them, connecting to their aloneness, their resolute nature, their indifference to the humans who surround them, and their proximity to the end of the world.
In telling T.’s story, Millet creates a deep, powerful meditation on mankind’s relationship with animals and undeniable vulnerability when confronted by nature. Ambivalence aside, I’m still looking forward to reading more of Millet’s work.