Customer Reviews: Magnificence: A Novel
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VINE VOICEon May 23, 2013
I struggled with coming up with a cohesive review for this novel, as my thoughts about this one seemed scattered. Did I like the novel? Yes, but I had issues with it as well.

Magnificence begins as the novel's protagonist, Susan Lindley, and her daughter Casey head out to the airport to pick up husband/father Hal. Hal has been in Belize looking for Susan's boss, T, a real estate developer, who has gone missing. Little do either women realized but Hal is dead, the victim of a mugging turned violent. Why he is in South America, and why Susan is feeling guilty was a mystery to me, but as I read on I realized that this, is in fact, the third book in a trilogy: How the Dead Dream, Ghost Lights and now Magnificence. Although it has been stated that this novel can stand alone, I tend to disagree. I'm pretty sure I would have enjoyed it more if I knew the entire story of Susan, Hal , (now deceased), and Casey, (now a paraplegic), and why Susan blames herself for Hal's death.

Once Susan realizes what has happened to Hal, she is beside herself with guilt. She decides to sell their home and start fresh by moving to the beach. Just as this happens, she learns that she has inherited an estate in Pasadena, CA, from an eccentric uncle that Susan hardly knew. Once Susan gets inside of this weird old mansion, things get creepy. The house is full with exotic wildlife from all parts of the world that her uncle has hunted and had stuffed. Deer, bear, eagles, hawks, leopards and other creatures fill the rooms of the mansion; the place is certainly bizarre. The floor that Susan chooses to live on has 8 bedrooms each with a geographic letter theme on the door: The Rainforest, The Arctic, The Himalayas etc. This was also a part of the novel I loved as well.

The reason for Susan's guilt is eventually revealed, and as Susan begins sorting through her uncle's extensive taxidermy collections, she ends up not only caring for the collection, but allowing other damaged individuals like herself stay with her to help with their issues as well.

Much of the novel is told through the internalized thoughts of Susan, as she dwells on the role she played in her husband's death. Susan was an extremely flawed character, and at times I found her thoughts and ramblings moving. I do wish that the secondary characters were more fully explored as I would have liked to know more about them. The writing was very good; at time satirical, and definitely a perceptive account of love, loss, loneliness and aging. I liked the ending, and even though it was not perfect, it was not disappointing either. I'm so sorry I did not read the first (2) novels in this trilogy before attempting this one, and I honestly think my appreciation of this story would have been more fully realized. I do plan to go back and read all (3) novels in order. I do recommend this author.
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on January 7, 2013
I loved the beginning. It's not that I don't like men, but I enjoyed her rant. And it is true that that men are tragically flawed and have such fragile egos. Who could deny it? I loved the house she inherits. It is described well and the people who gather there are interesting. I didn't feel the ending did justice to the first two-thirds, but endings are difficult.
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on August 9, 2016
Millet is a great writer. I don't know when I have been more caught up in the musings of characters, deep and fascinating. That goes for all three of her LA trilogy. And, by the way, I just followed them up by reading Everybody's Pretty, which is right up there with a Confederacy of Dunces for off the wall, wild humor, and I'd throw in the Jack Isadore sections of Confessions of a Crap Dealer as another comparison where Millet comes off very well (can you think of anyone else in that company -- I can't). The trailing off conclusions also had the feel of a Coen Brothers film. The refusal to tie up all the plot threads bothers me in those films, but I liked it in Millet.
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on March 15, 2013
This final installment in the trilogy (beginning with HOW THE DEAD DREAM and continuing with GHOST LIGHTS) is engaging and well written. As in the earlier novels, MAGNIFICENCE takes readers into the intimate thoughts of its principal character in ways that cause us to recognize our own less than praise-worthy motivations while somehow maintaining interest and respect for her. The plot is not predictable, making it an intriguing read. My only real disappointment - and here's a partial spoiler alert - is that the ending is not satisfying, as it is neither a real conclusion nor an indication of what will follow.
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Susan's daughter Casey has had a catastrophic accident. She and Casey are driving to the airport to pick up her husband Hal only to find that Hal has been killed during his trip to find and return their friend.
In Magnificence, Susan finds that the precautions she had taken to be past the steep hills of tragedy have evaded her. She had sought refuge in sex with other men, taking for granted the ongoing shelter of her marriage. In the course of the story she inherits a vast estate which contains the products of taxidermy on a multitude of animals. She falls in love again. She takes in a colony of older women piece by piece. She comes to find that the molecules of our lives, both ongoing and past, remain intertwined.
"We are the memory of others, we are the memory of ourselves." Magnificence is the voyage we take through the hazards of the world and of ourselves to come to terms with these memories, and finally to stop fleeing, and take them in.
This book has a bit of a slow start. It is filled with the often witty observations on the male sex with "their repressed rage and Asperger syndrome." Susan gets side tracked on an obsession that she has killed her husband with her discovered infidelity and his subsequent final trip. But soon the strands of thought begin to weave, and this book transcends into a luminous voyage that avoids the heavy hands of too tedious spiritualism. The taxidermy is a winsome risk but in the end weaves into the strand of the story. It is a book worth reading.
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on May 21, 2016
I've committed to reading Ms Millet's entire oeuvre. This my third title, and the second one I was unable to get into. When you're not compelled to carry on reading, and feel to do so would be more a result of commitment than pleasure, you know it's time to close the book. I'm still scratching my head.
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on November 19, 2012
Lydia Millet's strange and lovely new novel, MAGNIFICENCE, opens as Susan, a middle-aged former teacher, and her daughter Casey arrive at the airport to meet Susan's husband Hal, due to return from Belize, where he's gone in search of Susan's employer, known only as T. Much to Susan and Casey's surprise, however, T emerges from the airplane alone, with the news that Hal has been murdered in a botched street robbery.

Susan's first reaction is one of shock and grief, of course, but that's soon replaced by a rather different set of emotions, ones that in many ways guide the decisions she makes and the self-conception she holds through the rest of the novel. "Maybe it was her, maybe she had done it, made a victim of him in the same way, in a slasher movie, the woman of low morals was doomed from the start, the buxom blonde in tight clothes good for nothing but ogling and murdering, her future blank save for the pending role as punished dead harlot." Why should Susan blame herself in a very real way for a murder that took place thousands of miles away? Because, she rationalizes, Hal left for Belize not only because T had disappeared but also because he was devastated to discover firsthand Susan's extramarital affair, just the latest in a string of infidelities.The emotional rationale for Susan's serial adultery is only revealed much later in the book, but the effect it has on her self-worth guides much of the novel's focus and action.

Susan knows she wants to get out of the Los Angeles house she shared with Hal, but she's not sure where she wants to go. That is, until she discovers that she's been left, entirely unexpectedly, the house of a recently deceased uncle. Susan has hardly met the man and barely remembers his house (her only memory is a player piano that's no longer even there), but she views the windfall as a serendipitous chance for a fresh start. Well, "fresh" in a manner of speaking, given that Susan's new house is absolutely stuffed with taxidermy animals --- everything from local birds to the most exotic African and Asian big game. Most people might be squeamish about being around so much death, but Susan, for reasons that are only gradually understood, becomes quite fond of the dead animals, even using her newfound fortune to help preserve and repair them.

There's a lot of other things happening here, including Susan's ongoing and largely unfounded worries about Casey (who's confined to a wheelchair following a car accident), her perpetual and largely unsuccessful attempts to find sexual and romantic fulfillment, and her eventual willingness to open up her new house to some extremely unusual houseguests. The whimsy approaches absurdity at times, but it also mirrors the real-life disorientation and absurdity that accompanies periods of grief. As it turns out, Susan's grief has been following her far longer than the reader initially knows; the impulses behind her behavior provide, in the end, an abundance of sympathy and humanity that unfolds gradually but no less profoundly or magnificently.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl
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Millet returns to familiar characters from the emotionally wrenching Ghost Lights, which ends in tragedy as yet unrealized by family members anticipating a reunion with a loved one. Magnificence begins as Susan Lindley and her wheelchair-bound daughter, Casey, arrive at LAX to meet a flight from Central America, only to learn a shocking truth. T., Susan's errant, globe-trotting boss, tells mother and daughter that Hal, Susan's husband, who traveled to retrieve T. from his directionless wandering, was killed just before their flight home. Both Susan and Casey bravely attempt to absorb the ramifications of Hal's demise. Besides indulging in a series of casual infidelities during Hal's absence, Susan ruminates on the nature of males and females, the demands of modern marriage, the years of familiarity with another person through daily proximity. Without Hal to balance her inequities, Susan assumes the role of murderer, perceived guilt in sending Hal after T., grappling with a way to make peace with an uncertain future.

Weighted with the detritus of grief, Susan finds herself the legal heir of a distant uncle's vast and eccentric estate, a rambling mansion filled with the trophies of a world-class hunter, room after room of creatures furred, feathered and scaled, a virtual museum of taxidermy. It is in this new incarnation that Susan accepts her changed reality and lasting affection for the husband that haunts her days with the other lifeless inhabitants of the estate. In a sort of fugue state (love among the ruins), life takes unusual turns, from Susan's evolving relationship with Casey to the objections of troublesome cousins, extended visits from T.'s elderly mother, suffering from dementia, and the consequences of owning an estate filled with inanimate creatures, difficult even at the best of times. Eccentric and rigorously contemplative, Millet's protagonist is laid bare sans the boundaries of her former existence, belatedly forced to reconcile with reality and an unplanned future. It's a strange, quirky journey, not entirely sympathetic, but Millet's poetic style is seductive, her prose languid and powerful. Luan Gaines/2012.
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on January 25, 2013
I was really looking forward to this book, having very much enjoyed the first two books of this trilogy.

But I was extremely disappointed. This book follows one of the characters from the previous books, Susan Lindley. But the most interesting characters in this series, T (her boss) and Casey(her wheelchair-bound daughter) barely have cameo roles in this one.

Instead, Susan, the least interesting of the characters from the previous books, is the star of the show. She inherits a mansion in Pasadena, and rambles around it with her new boyfriend (a married man, who is barely given a personality), and T's mother (who is suffering from dementia) and the mother's retired friends.

Susan is lonely, and more than a bit whiny. And there are no other characters to fill the space of the ones who hover around the edges of this book.

Lydia Millett is a very talented writer, but I would read the other books in this trilogy, and skip the disappointing conclusion.
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on January 15, 2013
Unfortunately there isn't enough literary spark in this book. While the quality of writing is admirable, and there is something of a Nora Ephron edge, the plot itself is kind of inert. Written largely in the first person, it's burdened by lots of philosophizing, internal conversations and uninteresting filler pertaining to taxidermy. Might possibly be of more interest to women than to male readers.
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