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

3.8 out of 5 stars 25 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.
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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: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #909,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 23, 2012
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: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Incredible, amazing read. Such a powerful story, one that still has me reflecting. It's told in a remarkable way, feeling as if each word was carefully chosen for the perfect effect.

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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I’m really struggling with how to rate this one. Lydia Millet is undeniably brilliant, and reading a novel like this makes me feel like I’m being dropped into the mind of someone smarter and more insightful than I could ever hope to be. Personally, I gravitate toward that kind of challenge. It’s a privilege, really, to bear witness to such an incredible mind.

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.
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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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