Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: How the Dead Dream: A Novel by Lydia Millet

This book is about a man, named T. He is easy to envision, the good looking, aloof, business man with his eye on the bottom line. He has always been unsure of how to connect with people but, through the course of the story, circumstances change this about him: his mother's sudden needfulness, his father's strange desertion, the fate of his first relationship, etc.

We see from T.'s history, that even in childhood, his fascination, perhaps even obsession, with money is more important to him than any human emotion or relationship. He offers to mediate for his friends with their bulliers, for a fee of course, to stop the bullying; he collects for charities, and to those not looking very closely, it seems like he's doing such great things at a young age. Though he does give some of the contributions to the charities, his "business" works in percentages and he amasses his personal funds steadily, through a 25/75 split.

One night, on a trip to supervise his new retirement community being built in the Nevada desert, he hits a coyote. Not wanting to leave the animal on the road for others to hit it, he pulls off to the side and remains there while the coyote is dying. This experience sets off a whole chain of events and is the beginning of a myriad of new sensations for T.: love, loss, compassion, empathy. T.'s formerly cold perspective on life warms to the plight of animals, particularly endangered ones. He begins to believe that our modern society would not seem as vivid without the natural background of oceans, deserts, mountains, and as we continue to expand the concrete jungle, these differences become less and less available.

The story starts off as a narration of T.'s life, but as we continue on, it feels like watching ice melt, seeing the transformation that this man is going through. It has a disjointed feel to it at times, but this fits beautifully with how the character comes across. T.'s eyes begin to open to the whole world around him, where he sees the flaws in the people he has chosen to do business with; he now finds them distasteful and is even threatened by one. There is a curious, surreal feel to the story telling but it works wonderfully in the overall chemistry of the book.

Lydia Millet has a such stunning phraseology. How the Dead Dream is beautifully written, contrasting ironic humour against the far less funny fate of our world and those creatures living in it, especially the ones that had nothing to do with the drastic changes to its landscapes. While the ending lacked a little something for me, perhaps a finite resolution, this may be because it is the first in a series. Overall it's an excellent book that I thoroughly enjoyed and would totally recommend. I look forward to more in the future from Lydia Millet.


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