14 February 2013

Ghost Lights (Lydia Millet)

I first read Lydia Millet last fall at the urging of a co-worker. And by urging, I mean he brought me his copy of How the Dead Dream, put it in my hands, and said "YOU ARE READING THIS NEXT." I skimmed the opening passage, wherein protagonist T. as a boy falls in love with money--not the abstract concept of wealth, but physical coins and bills themselves, describing his infatuation with "Hamilton, whose face was fraught with nobility and feminine grace despite a nose that was far from small. . . . At times he found himself ranking the girls in his class on a scale from one to ten in terms of their resemblance to the former soldier of the Republic." Well. As a gal with a long-standing and well-documented crush on ol' Alex, I was hooked.

(And because I'm a lucky duck who works for a bookstore and hence has relationships with publishers' sales reps, who are, no joke, the Best People, I asked my Norton rep for the rest of Millet's recently completed sort-of trilogy, Ghost Lights and Magnificence, and she graciously obliged. Thank you, Karen!)

The genesis of said urging had come a few days prior. We were idly flipping through a just-arrived ARC--a debut thriller, as, like, half the ARCs we receive seem to be--and he (let's call him W., in honor of T.) read aloud a couple of flat, leaden declarative sentences, Subject Verb Object marching towards oblivion. This led W. to broach the concept of "books that feel written," and I knew exactly what he meant. There are books that are such immediate artifacts of mind, such meticulous concatenations of words, that reading them is like drowning. Connecting with a book--and by extension an author--like this is the closest one can get to telepathy.

Millet's books feel written.

So while, yes, Ghost Lights has a plot, and a main character, and themes, I'm not going to talk about any of that. (Here's a synopsis). Instead, I'm just going to quote; this novel has once and for all turned me into the kind of person who dog-ears pages, so I can actually find the quotes I loved again. Hurray for me! I've become a real book reviewer.
  • "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." (78)
  • "Socially speaking a German turned outward, like a sunflower toward the sun; a bohemian turned inward like a rotting pumpkin." (107)
  • "[F]ish still moved among [the corals], their bright bodies flashing among the worn gray humps like the Mohawks of teenage punks drinking in a graveyard." (183)
  • "The dogs were a kind of love, given freely to men. Their existence meant you did not have to be alone. For if, in the end, you found yourself alone, completely alone, and it was chilling, you could look for a dog. And there, in the dog, would be love. You did not have to deserve a dog. Rather a dog was a gift, a gift and a representative. What a dog was was simple: the ambient love of the world." (250)
Did you gasp at that last one? I sure did.

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