5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
"switterbug" Betsey Van Horn
- Published on Amazon.com
This second book of Millet's trilogy, following the intrepid How the Dead Dream, centers on middle-aged IRS bureaucrat, Hal Lindley, Susan's husband, both who were minor characters in the first book. Susan works for T., the protagonist of book one, the man who is missing in Belize, and presumed dead. You don't have to read the first book to engage with the second, but it adds more background and material on several of the characters (especially T.), and some more dimension and history on the story as a whole.
The only writer I can think of that reminds me of Millet is Paul Auster, with his postmodern, darkly comic and surreal novels of characters earnestly struggling, and yet with an absurd haplessness, too, to comprehend their lives. They suffer from disorienting delusions, so that their self-directed journeys are fevered with mortifications. Millet is somewhat quirkier, even, and without the assembled, careful structure of Auster. She is less antiseptic than Auster, with an undertone of gallows humor.
After Hal comes to the conclusion that Susan is having an affair with her preppy office paralegal, he decides to play the potential hero, offering to travel to Belize to find T. Stern, who has been missing since he went on a boat trip with a guide up the Monkey River. Several issues plague Hal, besides Susan's affair. First, he feels like he is responsible for forcing Susan to suppress her bohemian, free-love spirit that she possessed when they first met in the 60's (it is now 1994, dated by the death of Kurt Cobain).
Secondly, and more importantly, he is emotionally choked with guilt and pain about his daughter, Casey, who had an accident when she was 17 and is now a twenty-six-year-old paraplegic. Apparently, she once had an intimate affair with T., (if you read the first book, you get the full story), but she isn't sharing the details. T. was responsible for her new and improved outlook--her shedding of cynicism, self-enmity, and former scorn for all of existence. Now that Casey is engaged with life, she has taken on an acrimonious, mocking ex-cop paraplegic boyfriend, and an appalling telephone job that Hal found out about inadvertently.
Hal's feelings of profound loss over Casey, and his frequent interior dialogues about her "before" and "after" state, as well as the shock of his wife's infidelity, crushes him with an awareness of his own obsolescence. This keeps with the themes of extinction started in the first book. Although it is animal extinction that was How the Dead Dream's concern, there has always been a subtext of human dissolution and annihilation.
"...suddenly he was older and part of the architecture, its tangibility and the impulse behind it, its failings and strengths. The heavy installation had lost their majesty and seemed temporary, even shoddy, with a propensity for decline."
"He was a surplus human, a product of a swollen civilization. He was a widget among men."
Hal's adventures in Belize include breakfast:
"Eggs arrived, with a slice of papaya to remind him of his location. Lest he mistake them for Hackensack eggs or eggs in Topeka, the papaya came along to announce they were tropical eggs, to remind him that congratulations!-he was on a tropical vacation."
Hal meets a German couple named Hans and Gretel (seriously!), (with twin blonde young "cornboys" obsessed with table tennis and video games), who are resolutely cheerful and beautiful to look at, and radiate a glowing bliss. "Such Germans were irritating. On the one hand they were an unpleasant reminder of Vikings and Nazis, on the other hand you envied them."
Hans, an avionics genius and specialist in something called tactical sensor networks, is well-connected to the military, and after hearing Hal's reason for coming to this island, organizes a search for T., with the U.S. armed forces, the Belize Defence Force Cadets, and NATO on board. Hal joins Hans and the muscle bound military men, and has his own Heart of Darkness trip through the jungle, as T. did in the first book.
This next quote, although not plot progressing, is an example of Millet's sly, dark wit as channeled by Hal's interior thoughts:
"Armed forces personnel were not as bad as cops, when it came to the aggregate probability of antisocial personality disorder...They were not homicidal so much as Freudian; they liked to feel the presence of a constant father. And their fringe benefits included fit and muscular bodies."
Millet's charismatic wit blends with her piercing, philosophical insights and compassion to portray a man on the brink of an existential crisis. What is especially endearing about Hal Lindley is his humanity as a parent, ripe and heartfelt with touching contradictions. The ending is surreal and mystifying, with a touch of the bizarre, a soul-searing finale that makes me impatient for book three. Magnificence is scheduled for November release.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
This is my first book review for Amazon and I am jumping in here only because I so loved this book I wanted to see it get another 5 star rating.Others have delved further into the plot and I suggest that readers forgo the "book review" below as it contains an ending spoiler which I would have hated to have uncovered ahead of time. This story is so beautifully constructed that I am going back now and rereading upon finishing in order to appreciate the interconnected pieces and subtly placed hints that carry one to the amazing ending. This is an intellectual journey of an extremely ordinary person coming to find his extraordinary self. The layers of insight revealed relentlessly as we travel with Hal mirror everything from the horrific state of the world we live in and our means of shutting out the terrible pain of what it means to live, love and lose, to the embracing of one's own mortality and the inevitable dispassionate judgement of no god greater than one's own soul.
Yes the book demands that you slow down and read each sentence more carefully than you might normally do, but what rewards await your diligence! This was a feast and I enjoyed every minute...I laughed out loud on the airplane when I started it, because Hal's insight is wicked funny, and later got up in the middle of the night to finish it...I just had to know where it was going, and I was sorry to have to put it down in the end.
For me it was a relief to come across a read like this, original, revealing, stimulating, challenging, funny...if you like to push up against the boundaries of your comfort zone, and end up feeling like you just went somewhere profound in your armchair then this might be a good one for you.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
An I.R.S. agent, Hal, goes looking for his wife's missing boss in a Central American jungle. Why? Because he thinks his wife is having an affair with a paralegal who works in the boss's office? Maybe, maybe for more complicated reasons. The boss, "T." disappeared on a trip to Belize. Hal's wife is frantic. Hal, drunk at a party, announces he will go to Belize and find T. Hal's wife and his paraplegic daughter, are amazed and grateful. Hal is stunned by his own decision, but "what the hell?" During his sojourn in the jungles and resorts and jails and bars and house parties of Belize, Hal reflects on his life, his character, his failures as a husband and father, and life in general. He meets a German couple and their two young sons. "Hans and Gretel" befriend him and, incredibly, volunteer to help him find the missing (dead?) T. Hal ruminates on the German character; determined, efficient, productive, and goes skinny dipping with the beautiful wife. They have sex on the beach, while the husband enlists the aid of the American Coast Guard, and Belize military cadets in a search for T. Hal's reflections on the human condition, his own failings, his newly formed aspirations, are sincere, touching, pathetic, and humorous all at once. Maybe this sounds too cerebral, but Lydia Millet weaves this tale so deftly, with such sly humor and such dead-on pathos, with such terrible insights, and suspense, that the book simply won't be put down. One reviewer here criticized the novel for not having a plot. Wrong. The plot is one man's journey to a new comprehension of his being. It is an engrossing journey.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Cary B. Barad
- Published on Amazon.com
An edgy, side splitting novel of a mild-mannered government bureaucrat who fears that he has been cuckolded by "Robert the Paralegal". Subsequently, he goes through a number of existential crises that lead him to the hotels and jungles of the Carribean, where he is confronted by a pair of "neurotic bohemians" and by a family of "aggressive German tourists" in his search for a venture capitalist gone missing. The scenarios in this book are written tongue-in-cheek, and bring to mind a WASPish Woody Allen/Larry David misadventure. I should add that there is a very dark side as well, but this only adds to the novel's edginess. Highly recommended for a very pleasurable reading experience.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
When asked about her close brush with the Pulitzer Prize at the Tucson Festival of Books, Lydia Millet was ironic and self-effacing. This is only the second Lydia Millet book I've read, but please, people, give this lady a prize! In Ghost Lights, the reader enjoys the inexorable pull of the writing through the richest and most banal details of a life that takes on a much greater meaning than itself by the bittersweet end. This part two follows the husband of a woman who worked for T., the long-suffering protagonist of How The Dead Dream, as he goes to Belize without much hope of recovering T.'s body. The plot twists and surprises are almost as enjoyable as the je ne sais quoi of the writing. How does Millet manage to capture the... whatever it is she captures? At the Book Festival, I learned that there is a third book planned that follows these characters, and I will be sure to pick it up right away.