Sweet Lamb of Heaven, by Lydia Millet. Published 2016 by WW Norton. Literary Fiction.
A young mother with a secret and her toddler daughter escape a controlling husband for a dingy Maine motel in the latest novel by acclaimed author Lydia Millet.
I've been a fan of Lydia Millet's for a while now, starting when I read her wonderful novel Magnificence. That was the third in a trilogy, and reading the first two novels in that series really locked her in for me as a new favorite writer. Here was someone who reminded me of a pre-dystopia Margaret Atwood, who wrote about peoples' lives with devastating insight and clarity and mixed the political into her very personal stories about growing up, marriage and everyday life, pushing past the domestic and into the sublime.
In her latest novel, she tells the story of a married woman named Anna who has taken her young daughter Lena and run away from her husband, a budding and controlling politician. They are hiding out at a motel in Maine as Anna tells their story through journal entries and flashbacks. But Anna and Lena have a secret; when Lena was a baby, Anna (and maybe her husband too) heard voices. These weren't voices in their head; these were like radio broadcasts or transmissions and included music, recognizable passages from literature, and more. The voices always seemed tied to whatever Lena was doing and once she started to talk the voices stopped. But in a way they have continued to haunt Anna in their new life at the motel.
What starts as a quiet narrative picks up steam when Anna's husband catches up with them and kidnaps Lena. From here the book takes a turn into thriller territory but we never quite leave the supernatural behind.
I welcomed the change of pace since the book did start off slow for me. I hung in because I trust Millet to deliver, and she did. That said, Sweet Lamb of Heaven isn't going to be for every reader. It reminds me a lot of Curtis Sittenfeld's 2013 novel Sisterland (read my review here), about two sisters, adultery, sibling rivalry and psychic phenomena. That one was a rewarding read that was also a tough sell and I'd save recommending Sweet Lamb for the reader who isn't afraid of domestic fiction with an edge. I liked it a lot; I always admire Millet's work for the way she portrays the quiet of everyday life as well as the undercurrent of our inner lives.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.