How the Dead Dream
by Lydia Millet
A constant theme in Lydia Millet's fiction is apocalypse, both in the popular sense of "catastrophe" and in the original, literal sense of "revealing" or "unveiling." There's often a feeling in her books that the end times have come and gone, that we're living in the aftermath of the end of the world but are too dull or too distracted to notice. It's little surprise, then, that her "T." trilogy is set in the mid-1990s, when the
stock market was soaring and the effects of global climate change hadn't
yet become a fact of everyday life.
T. is the protagonist of How the Dead Dream. A hotshot young California real-estate developer, he is a financial savant with a taste for high-end suits and black Mercedes until an escalating series of personal disasters opens him up to something unexpected. He clips a coyote while driving through the desert one night and is moved to drag the wounded animal from the roadway and sit with it as the life goes out of its eyes. After that he becomes quietly obsessed with endangered, last-of-their-kind animals. Before long he is sneaking into zoos at night, into the enclosures of the rarest of the rare animals simply to be with them in the last place they will ever walk the earth. Amazingly, Millet manages to make T.'s actions both credible and sympathetic.
Finally, Magnificence follows T. back home to southern California, where he sets about dismantling his business and romancing Hal and Susan's daughter, Casey. Magnificence is Susan's story, and it is wonderfully weird in Millet's signature fashion. Exhausted, about-to-be-unemployed Susan learns that she has inherited a mansion in Pasadena, then discovers that it is more museum of taxidermy than home. She withdraws to its cloistered, slightly overgrown grounds and begins setting things (including the wildlife displays) in order. But the peaceful spell is broken when she first is joined by T.'s mother and a coterie of slightly eccentric elderly women, then discovers the entrance to a mysterious cellar beneath the house. What she discovers there is a revelation, a testament and a warning.
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Review by Don Beistle