How the Dead Dream, by Lydia Millet, was recommended to me by Tim (who posted on it earlier, although I can’t remember his post and won’t look back at it until I finish mine). I finished the book last night, and while I’m definitely happy about reading it, I’m still not completely sure the entire thing has sunk in yet.
I think the reason for that is that the book really covers three periods in the main character’s life. Thomas (or “T.”, as he is most often referred to in the narrative) begins life as a youngster absolutely fixated on money; not initially the greed of wanting more of it, but rather a conceptual worship of the idea of money, right down to the faces of the dead presidents featured on bills and coins, and the first part of the book follows his formative years into his establishment as a real estate developer. Then, the book veers off into a “middle section” that tracks his relationships — with women, with business partners, with his dog, and with his aging mother. Lastly, the final part of the book focuses on T.’s mental and psychological transformation into a guy whose focus seems to be completely centered on empathy and compassion, specifically toward animals, even more specifically toward animals on the verge of extinction.
The three parts of the book (my delineations, not the author’s) threw me initially. While I really liked Millet’s writing style and vocabulary, I almost put the book down partway through the second “section”; I couldn’t really sense a plot, and I just didn’t really care much for T. or what was going to happen to him. But I stuck it out, and almost immediately felt rewarded for it. The book is truly one about transformation, and about the pieces of our world that we choose to focus on and which steer our development during our limited time on earth.
The way that Millet discusses mortality, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, is fascinating. And some of the passages are so darned quote worthy that I’ll indulge us both for a second:
. . . to Janet a bachelor eked out his living on the margins of society, orbiting the married couples wild-eyed and feral as a homeless man at a polo party.
or how about:
In the wild, he thought, there would be almost no waiting. Waiting was what happened to you when you lost control, when events were out of your hands or your freedom was taken from you; but in the wild there would always be trying. In the wild there would always be trying and trying, he thought, and almost no waiting. Waiting was a position of dependency.
Millet’s descriptions of T.’s thoughts and of how they drove him to embark on the journey depicted in the last segment of the book is absolutely mesmerizing. And as the story wrapped itself up, I felt connected to T. and to everything that happened to him, despite how discombobulated some of it felt to me earlier.
Note [SPOILER ALERT -- DON'T READ THIS NOTE IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE ENDING OF THE BOOK]: the ending of this book reminded me of the ending of The Confessions of Max Tivoli (one of my absolute favorite books); both feature the main character alone in the wilderness, coming to terms with mortality both figuratively and literally.