Thursday, February 7, 2013
REVIEW: Magnificence, by Lydia Millet
Magnificence is a quiet novel, luminous and strange, about a woman dealing with grief and making a new life for herself after the sudden death of her husband in a foreign country. This premise did not sound promising to me as I picked the book up, as I'm not overly fond of coming-to-terms-with-grief stories about husbands dying, but once I gave it a chance, i found it to be a truly remarkable and lovely novel.
Susan Lindley goes to meet her husband Hal at the airport. He's supposed to be coming back from a trip to South America to rescue her errant boss T., midlife-crisis victim. With her is her daughter Casey. Casey is disabled following an accident and this is important because Casey's side of the story is also about finding her place in the world. But we'll get back to Casey later. So, Hal does come back, but he comes back in a box. At the same time, a distant relative of Susan's has also died, and he has left her a surprise- an inheritance in the form of a mansion filled with taxidermy.
Susan decides to live in the house and little by little learns its secrets and takes it on as a way to immerse herself in something. Susan has a lot of issues to deal with, including her own serial adultery and guilt concerning her daughter. But Casey is better than her mother thinks, and may even surprise her by the end of the book. Meanwhile the house becomes a kind of gathering place for misfits of various kinds- Susan's new lover, T.'s mother and Susan's envious cousins who want to take the house away from her.
I don't want to say much more. I didn't know anything about this book when I picked it up and found that I really just loved it, and I loved all the twists and turns and surprises it offers. The writing is beautiful and literary in style; it's driven by character first and foremost but Millet is a lovely stylist and offers some nice insights into what it means to be a wife, mother, lover, and woman. I felt kind of sorry for Susan and her transgressions didn't bother me because they seemed to be a way of searching. The house is really what she was looking for all along, the house and what's housed in side, who's housed, and what it all means. Magnificence is the third book in Millet's series about these characters; the previous two, How the Dead Dream and Ghost Lights, focus on T. and Hal respectively, and I do want to read those and see how they all fit together. I would say though that Magnificence stands beautifully alone.
It'll almost certainly show up in my top favorites of the year.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.