four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
57-Mar-Apr-2012
By: 
Lydia Millet
user_rating: 
0

A-Ghost-LightsLydia Millet is the author of six previous novels and a short story collection, Love in Infant Monkeys (2009), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her seventh novel, Ghost Lights, the middle novel of a planned trilogy, is a continuation of How the Dead Dream (3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2008), and, despite a change in narrators, it picks up exactly where that story left off. Also reviewed: Oh Pure and Radiant Heart (4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2005).

The Story: In How the Dead Dream, T. Stern, a smooth and successful Los Angeles real estate developer, saw his life unravel. In this sequel, IRS agent Hal Lindley, haunted by the car accident that left his daughter a paraplegic years before, suddenly comes across evidence that his wife Susan is having an affair. Dazed and eager to escape the situation, he volunteers to search for Stern, Susan's missing boss, who disappeared in the Central American jungle. Arriving in Belize, Hal confesses to himself that "he was not here to find anyone. Not here to exert himself, but rather to melt down, settle, coalesce, and rise in a new form." When he meets the German tourists Hans and Gretel, however, he is unexpectedly drawn into the mystery in spite of himself.
Norton. 256 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780393081718

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars"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

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars"Millet is operating at a high level in Ghost Lights, and the book provides a fascinating glimpse of what can happen when 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

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars"With its linguistic and plot pranks and underlying moral complexity, Ghost Lights recalls the laconic, Lacanian novels of Paul Auster. ... Millet's voice (often rendered in a free indirect style that seems to reveal the full sensibilities of her characters without authorial intervention) also recalls the hearty, joke-riddled poignancy of Lorrie Moore." Carolyn Cooke

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars"As is often the case in stories like this, Hal is less of an actor than someone who is acted upon: In the jungle, things happen to him, rather than the other way around. ... This could be dull, if Hal weren't interesting." Carolyn Kellogg

Critical Summary

When you finally realize that you've been sleepwalking through life, will life let you wake up? Deeply meaningful one moment and wickedly funny the next, Millet's new novel explores one middle-aged man's growing realization that he is a failure as a father, a husband, and a man. Millet adeptly captures Hal's interior monologues and existential questioning, which is somewhat of a feat considering he is rather clueless in How the Dead Dream. Ghost Lights is the second installment in a planned trilogy, and it suffers somewhat from its position in the middle, according to the Los Angeles Times, but it isn't necessary for readers to be familiar with its predecessor to fully enjoy Hal's journey and sharp observations. Deep, disturbing, and darkly humorous, Ghost Lights is an expedition into the Belizean jungle that readers won't soon forget.