Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: GHOST LIGHTS, by Lydia Millet

Ghost Lights, by Lydia Millet. Published 2012 by W.W. Norton & Company. Literary Fiction.

Ghost Lights is the second volume of Lydia Millet's "Extinction" trilogy and like many second volumes it serves as a transition from the first to the third. The first book, How the Dead Dream, tells the story of T., a man who goes from capitalist to conservationist and then gets lost in the jungles of Belize after a storm destroys a resort he's trying to build. The second book picks up the action after T.'s disappearance but is told from the point of view of Hal, the husband of T.'s assistant Susan, and Hal is a ghost light of a kind, a transient figure who is seen and then disappears.

Hal has never had a high opinion of T., but he volunteers to go to Belize to find T. after Hal finds out that Susan has been having an affair with a younger coworker and that their daughter is working as a phone sex operator. Confused and feeling like a ghost in his own life, he makes the trip thinking it will just be a chance to get away and that he won't find T. at all. He feels like an invisible presence in the life of his family, whom he doesn't recognize anymore.

Millet is an excellent writer, kind of like a mid-career Margaret Atwood before speculative fiction took over her canon. Ghost Lights isn't as flashy as How the Dead Dream, or the splendid final volume of the series, Magnificence, which I read when it came out and plan to re-read. Those two were unforgettable for me, and I can't say I loved Ghost Lights though I think it plays an important role in the series. It is a crucial pass-through point, not just answering questions asked in the first book and setting up the third, but spotlighting a man who feels unobserved in his own life, a shadow of what he imagined he would be. Hal is a man who's been passed through, passed by.  It is a quiet and quietly profound study of family, mid-life crisis and what happens when you realize the people you love aren't what you assumed they were, and find out they are the people they have always been after all.  If that makes sense, I strongly recommend the whole series.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

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