The Gentleman Recommends: Lydia Millet (again)

I’m thrilled to welcome Lydia Millet to the exclusive club of authors I have recommended twice. While many authors clearly merit the honor, it takes a confluence of their skill and my reading habits for the honor to be bestowed, and due to the recent acquisition of an older Millet novel (“How the Dead Dream“) and my subsequent delighted consumption of it and its two sequels (“Ghost Lights” and “Magnificence“), I am compelled to again recommend her works.

The previous recommendation was spurred by “A Children’s Bible” (which was in the top 10 for this year’s One Read) and “Sweet Lamb of Heaven,” and I hereby recommend them again. She also has other books that I have not yet mentioned, so perhaps a third recommendation is in the cards. Should she continue to publish brilliant books and I continue to be rewarded with candy for writing blog posts, there may be multiple future recommendations, such is my esteem for this author and candy.

How the Dead Dream book cover

About this trilogy I mentioned: it’s not like other trilogies or series. I counted not one magic ring or handsome vampire. Indeed, unless I missed something, there wasn’t a single mythological creature or snafu related to time travel. You may be wondering what could be within its pages if so much isn’t. I’ll try to give you an idea, after all these blog posts are about more than the power I feel catapulting another author to superstardom and the acquisition of sweets: they are also about giving the reader a vague idea of what a book I like is about.

So, “How the Dead Dream” centers on T., a child that likes money because of the portraits on it who becomes an adult who is gifted at getting more and more of it. This character may not sound like someone you want to spend a few hundred pages with, but as someone who finds talk of money distasteful (should you have the good fortune to have a good fortune, I recommend leaving such gauche topics for your accountants and coin polishers), let me assure you I was thoroughly compelled by T. And not just because he changes after accidentally killing a coyote, but because Millet expertly colors in his character, and her humor and wordsmithery smooths over any distaste the reader may have for someone, who, as a child, charges a friend a fee to protect him from bullies (he uses a portion of the money to bribe the bullies). T. eventually goes to Belize for some real estate business, and a big thing happens to him.

The second book, “Ghost Lights,” is about T.’s assistant’s husband, Hal. He works for the IRS. I know I needn’t say more, because reading about someone undertaking the IRS’s heroic work is more than enough to hook the average person, and I can’t say too much more because I don’t want to spoil the ending of the first book. But I will say that Hal also goes to Belize and he has an adventure, and again Millet does genius character work and chooses and orders words in a real pretty way.

The third book, “Magnificence,” is about T.’s assistant. While I can’t say too much about this book without spoiling the ending of the second and first books, I can say she inherits a manor that is absolutely stuffed to the gills with taxidermy. What else could one need to know?

Millet does something profound with this trilogy. I could elaborate.

If you’re not in the mood for a character-driven trilogy, you could read one of her books of short stories. Perhaps “Love in Infant Monkeys,” which is wonderful and based around animals with connections to famous people. In the first story Madonna kills a pheasant.

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