Ghost Lights: A Novel Hardcover – Sep 20 2011
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[Lydia Millet] takes aim at the metaphysical jugular...her gorgeous narration...exists in some extraordinary place, at once discursive, editorial, and ruminative…. If literature can under the best circumstances transport, then Millet's extraordinary vision brings us in on the float. — Minna Proctor (Bookforum)
In Lydia Millet's brilliant new novel, a skeptical tax man follows a runaway millionaire to Latin America.
Can it be a coincidence that this year — when the issue of taxes has become an abyss that both divides and conquers our national government — we also have two new books about IRS workers by important novelists of ideas? The first, of course, is David Foster Wallace’s posthumously published The Pale King.... The second is Lydia Millet’s new novel, Ghost Lights....
...Millet is seldom compared to J.M Coetzee, who seems an obvious and fruitful influence on...Ghost Lights.... Their prose has a similar, lovely stillness, and both portray characters nudged beyond typical human navel-gazing.... — Laura Miller (Salon.com)
Millet is a gifted writer, often dropping droll and sardonic throw-away lines of surprisingly smart humor. — Kirkus Reviews
Millet… skillfully interweaves the personal and the political, making Hal’s journey both specific and universal. — Christine DeZelar-Tiedman (Library Journal)
Millet is that rare writer of ideas who can turn a ruminative passage into something deeply personal. She can also be wickedly funny, most often at the expense of the unexamined life. — Tricia Springstubb (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
...surreal, darkly hilarious and profound… With its linguistic and plot pranks and underlying moral complexity, Ghost Lights recalls the laconic, Lacanian novels of Paul Auster. Like Auster, Millet presents a disoriented postmodern hero who becomes a willing but only marginally competent detective in a mystery that requires a series of absurd divagations leading to a life-changing or life-threatening existential inquiry. — Carolyn Cooke (San Francisco Chronicle)
[A] whip-smart, funny novel…. A yarn about marriage, fatherhood, and idealism, its every page idiosyncratically entertaining, amusing, and insightful. Millet proves she might have Jonathan Franzen beat at expertly mixing the political and domestic. — Martha Steward Whole Living
At her best [Millet] exhibits the sweep and Pop-Art lyricism of Don DeLillo, the satiric acerbity of Kurt Vonnegut, the everyday-cum-surrealism harmonics of Haruki Murakami, and the muted-moral outrage of Joy Williams… Strange, alternately quirky, and profound… Millet is operating at a high level in Ghost Lights, and the book provides a fascinating glimpse of what can happen if the self’s rhythms and certainties are shaken. We should be grateful that such an interesting writer has turned her attention to this rich, terrifying subject. — Josh Emmons (New York Times Book Review)
About the Author
Lydia Millet is the author of the novels Sweet Lamb of Heaven, Mermaids in Paradise, Ghost Lights (a New York Times Notable Book), Magnificence (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize) and other books. Her story collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She lives outside Tucson, Arizona.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
Burning with shame at the duplicity he has discovered on the home front, Hal embarks on an otherworldly quest as the pieces of his life fall into place far from the familiar parameters of home. With the sleight of hand of a true storyteller, Millet's protagonist escapes the confines of his own limitations with an urgency that propels him into a dimension of consciousness that is both enlightening and tragic. This is a conventional life examined, the secret corridors of Hal's psyche thrown open to the howling winds of new experience. Memories of home blend with the novelty of adventure, all enriched by Hal's discoveries, though he cannot avoid paying the high tariff on wisdom: "He had turned out to be a hothouse flower- a hothouse flower from the first world that wilted in the third." The quietly forceful Millet explores Hal's newly-awakened interior world, an introspective man assaulted by truths that had thus far eluded him, caught in the extremes of T's failed enterprise, slyly delivering her coup de grace in a deceptively simple tale that might leave you breathless in recognition. Luan Gaines/2011.