Tag Archives: lydia millet

Is Lydia Millet one of the best living American novelists?

I think so, yeah.

And I wish I had a strong convincing critical essay in me about this subject. But the truth is, I’ve been reading a book a year from her for the last four years, the first two I read are already a little hazy (though enthusiastic!), and I only own one of them.

So I offer only this:

1. I know of no other fiction writer who has successfully engaged with our Ecological Doom Predicament so unpreachily.

2. She writes completely unswayed by the big lie that Economics is the truest, purest lens through which to view the world.

3. I don’t read biographies or watch biopics, and yet I seem to be an ideal audience for these episodic life stories she tells with such a specific lens that it feels completely natural that we should follow the same person so far forward in time.

4. So sharp. So funny when she wants to be.

It’s hard to gauge her popularity. She won a Guggenheim and a PEN-USA, almost won a Pulitzer, many of her books appear on major presses, but I don’t hear much about it when a new book of hers comes out, and she’s not on the radar of many of my friends. So let’s say this of her: Properly Acclaimed but Underread.

My tip for you: Start with either My Happy Life or How the Dead Dream and go from there.

I just finished her second novel, George Bush, Dark Prince of Love, which is easily the funniest of the four books of hers I’ve read so far. The sly point this book seems to make is that a citizen who models her own actions on the actions of a world leader would be a cunning, erratic sociopath. It’s as entertaining as it sounds.

The next of hers I’ll be tacking is Ghost Lights, the second in the trilogy began by How the Dead Dream.

Here’s a Lit Pub interview from last year.

Here’s her recent appearance on Brad Listi’s Other People podcast.

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Happy, Farm, Night, City, Quest

I loved Lydia Millet’s My Happy Life. Surprising and complicated and bizarro-lyrical, it jumps from insight to beautiful insight via a woman too oblivious to know she’s had a terrible life. And it’s the life itself that’s the most interesting thing of all: getting to enjoy both her perception of what happened and trying to figure out what was going on all around the narrator in the telling details she doesn’t understand. Also very funny at times. The tragic Forrest Gump minus leaf in the breeze. That’s dumb. Never mind. It made me think of the new Robert Lopez book that he read from when he was in town–both are narrated from locked rooms.

Also really enjoying dipping into Heather Christle’s The Difficult Farm, reading words already powerful with the benefit of Heather’s commanding and kinda mesmerizing reading voice still in my head.

Also making my way through Tobias Wolff’s solid The Night in Question. The last story, “Bullet in the Brain,” was made into a bad short film with Tom Noonan, who plays Sammy in “Synecdoche, NY.” It’s not really Tom’s fault, though–it just makes the rookie mistake of voice-over narration that ruins everything. Lines that are exciting in the story are rendered dumb and sentimental.

Speaking of–I tried to watch “Bright Lights, Big City” a couple of weeks ago, and it was bad in exactly the same way. We’re in a scene, having an OK time, then Michael J. Fox’s voice speaks up and stops everything to read to me from McInerney’s book.  He’s also just not a convincing cokehead. I made it about a half hour in.

What about good text + video? Try this: Hear a great essay by Brian Oliu while watching someone kick ass at Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. Two people excelling in such different ways, united by the same game. There’s a well-synched part in there where Oliu mentions the day/night switch just as the onscreen game turns to day.

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