rachel's Reviews > Ghost Lights

Ghost Lights by Lydia Millet
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Sep 03, 12

bookshelves: 2012
Read from May 27 to June 02, 2012

Ghost Lights is an odd little book. It was recommended by a woman in my writing workshop for its sardonic narrative voice. And that voice is easily the book's biggest strength, the reason I chose four stars instead of the three I am inclined to give it.

The protagonist of the book is Hal, 50 years old and working for the IRS, having something of an everyman life crisis. His 20-something daughter is paralyzed, has a boyfriend he disapproves of, and is working as a sex line operator. He suspects his wife is cheating on him with a much younger paralegal at her office. Moreover, his wife's boss, T, has gone missing in Belize and she's obsessed with finding him, channeling (Hal thinks) her energy/enthusiasm for the paralegal into the search.

Wanting to prove himself capable, having accrued lots of vacation time, and having nothing to lose anyway, Hal volunteers to go to Belize and find T. There he meets a young German couple -- Hans and Gretel -- who make a project of helping Hal find the missing man. He has his own brief tryst with Gretel (not a spoiler, this is on the jacket). Things go otherwise wacky with regards to the disappearance.

The reason I didn't love the book: the plot. My mistake was probably not reading it in one shot, which produced some disjointedness in pacing. Too much time spent in the jungle! Not enough time spent on his relationship with his wife after he tells her he thinks she's cheating! I don't know. It's a wisp of a book, and maybe it's reflective enough to satisfy others, but there's a lot going on in Hal's head and in the pages that only 255 of them to explore this world feels somewhat like a short shrift.

Lydia Millet's writing, though, is worthy of these four stars, if only because many times Hal's trains of thought into the absurd made me laugh out loud. Whenever he thinks about the oppression of Guatemalans, for example, he thinks about Rigoberta Menchu. But it's such a privileged, American, innocently blithe recollection that all he can remember is that she wears bright scarves. He admires a co-worker's earnestness, while mentally castigating him for wearing high-waisted pants. Most hilarious, to me anyway, is his/Millet's sense of humor about the Germans. For example:

Once they were back on the powerboat, the boys hunched over and were pushing buttons on their handheld games again and the German couple became caught up in the momentum. They were enthusiastic.

"You must contact your embassy in Belmopan," said the husband. "They have military forces! Maybe they would help you."

Germans. They thought you could just call in the army.

Even though I feel a bit less fulfilled than I was hoping to feel by the close of the book, it's still a very good recommendation. German humor! Love it.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Snotchocheez I know this is a little off the topic of your review, but you made mention of Rigoberta Menchú, and I felt kinda dumb not knowing who she was. After googling her, and finding out about her efforts to help her fellow indigenous (read: Mayan) people in Guatemala (and her Nobel Peace Prize win), i was compelled to ask a coworker this morning if he knew of her...well, of course he did...he proceded to tell me of the 30+ year-long civil war that went on, about his (Mayan) villiage being bombed by a helicopter, thus providing the impetus to make the hellacious voyage north to the United States through Mexico at age 14 wiith his cousin. It was quite an amazing story he told me (much of which I'd been familiar with from a Pulitzer Prize winning series of articles in the LA times tracing the mass exodus of Central Americans (primarily Guatemalans) from their home countries to the US.). All because of your casual mention of the protagonist's recollection of Sra Menchú's brightly colored scarves. Anyways, thanks! Learned a ton about Sra Menchú, and Guatemala, and my coworker, because of your review. (sorry bout the digression)

message 2: by rachel (last edited Jun 05, 2012 03:44AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

rachel Don't apologize, it's cool that you learned something. I thought that part was funny in particular because even though I knew a bit more about her upon reading than just what she looks like -- namely, the controversy over her changing elements of her story -- I couldn't tell you what she actually did for indigenous Guatemalans (which is exactly the point of Hal's recollection, and which is pretty shameful). There seems to be a decent portion of the Hispanic population here in Dtown that is Guatemalan, and I never thought to really wonder why they left.

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