Ghost Lights

By Lydia Millet

(Norton, $24.95, 256 pages) 

Who is this author?

Lydia Millet, one of America’s admired younger fiction writers, was born in Boston, grew up in Toronto and now lives in the desert near Tucson, Ariz. In 2010, she was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists, for her short story collection “Love In Infant Monkeys,” which imagined encounters between famous people and other species. Her novel, “My Happy Life,” won the 2003 PEN-USA Award. In 2000, she published “George Bush, Dark Prince of Love ,” a comic novel about a woman who lives in a trailer and is obsessed with the 41st president.

With the publication of “Ghost Lights,” Millet is now two-thirds of the way into a trilogy of novels that began with “How the Dead Dream.”

What is this book about?

Another obsessed woman figures prominently in Millet’s trilogy. She is Susan, wife of an Internal Revenue Service bureaucrat, and the mother of their accidentally paralyzed daughter.

Susan is infatuated with her real estate developer boss, known as T.  Her husband, Hal, understandably resents the younger man as a rival for his wife’s affection, but after getting drunk at a party, Hal volunteers to find T., who has vanished into the jungles of Belize, where he had a project underway.

 Hal is not the heroic type – mild-mannered is more like it – yet off he goes on a quest that is nominally about rescuing T. but also about finding himself. In a tale that has echoes of Conrad’s classic “Heart of Darkness,” Hal discovers a strange landscape and surreal experiences.

Why you’ll like it:

Millet employs dark humor to reveal her characters’ inner lives. As she explained in an interview with Eclectica Magazine:

“It seems to me that adult lives are not chiefly lives of discovery but of calcification and sedimentation: we become more rigid and we become more passive, buried in the sand that blows over us… And rarely, punctuating these long plateaus of sameness and non-learning, there are moments of rapture. In such moments we feel how near we are to touching truth, but how far away truth is, and how always and forever it will hover there beyond our reach… Many of my characters are caught up in moments of rapture and recognition, indeed such moments pop up like jack-in-the-boxes, because what else is worth the price of admission, finally? Myself, I live for those moments.”

The San Francisco Chronicle says Millet is fascinated by the nature of privacy – “the terrible and wonderful loneliness of the individual, the luxurious solitude of the mind.”

What others are saying:

“Millet is a gifted writer, often dropping droll and sardonic throw-away lines of surprisingly smart humor,” says Kirkus Reviews.

“Millet… skillfully interweaves the personal and the political, making Hal’s journey both specific and universal,” says Library Journal.

The New York Times Book Review says: “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.”

When is it available?

You can borrow it now from the Hartford Public Library. 

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