Brandon Will's Reviews > How the Dead Dream

How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet
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Mar 24, 09

Read in March, 2009

From the start, I didn't think I was going to care too much for T., the guy I was reading about, first seen as a child obsessed with the figures of the stately men that adorn money. I figured it would be a slightly absurd jokey type of character that would illustrate the authors imagination. But before I knew it, fifty pages had flown by, and I really got this guy. How disarmed I was at first by its whimsy made it all the more sneak up on me.

That's what Millet does here. She makes you slowly come to care for these characters who are presented unconventionally. First we learn their quirk, but that only paves the road we take to get to their core.

T. is a man who's never really gone out of his way for much more besides money. His parents failed him for the most part, both in childhood and then as he came to be a man. But he's forced to become closer to his mom when his dad leaves and wants nothing to do with them - not that he ever wanted much to do with them in the first place. He was never allowed to have pets as a child, his mom finding something repulsive about each and every possible furry or finned companion. A man on his own now, good at the only thing he ever really applied himself to - the pursuit of money - he gets a dog. He likes the dog. Then the girl he loved who changed everything for him dies in a car accident. And he hits a coyote.

His life moves quickly and unexpectedly. Like in our lives, we never really see what's coming. As his life unfolds, we see his themes emerge, we see him grow. The relation he feels to animals slowly grows on him, becoming more important than the slow accumulation of security and comfort that's become his life.

He finds himself hiring a man to teach him how to pick locks. He uses that information to sneak into zoos at night. He learns about animals by being with them when no one else is. He feels he can understand them. Or that they help him understand himself better. Or life better. Its unclear. But it's creating thought, progression. Growth.

The book chronicles how feelings lead to beliefs, and beliefs lead to causes; building up in people overtime, defining a person's constantly developing consciousness and being in unexpected ways. How causes become lives, or big parts of them. How ignorant mistakes lead to regret, then introspection, then to cathartic reaction.

His interest in all animals leads especially to the extinct ones. Animals that will soon be gone to the world forever. And how that process comes about. How they are overlooked. How they are disappearing all the time, and no one seems to notice much. Through this he gains a growing awareness and feeling for others, besides animals, the people around him he used to not notice much.

And during all this, an amazing thing is happening: as he relates more, we relate to him more, see him as more of a human, whereas at first he was just this characature we looked on out of amusement, because we were reading a book, and we wanted to be amused. This is the greatest success of the novel, that our growth in perception of him mirrors his growth of perception for the world around him. Through absurdity and animals and overview, Millet reminds us that connecting is being human - all forms of connecting. Even just breathing together. It has one of the most touching and rewarding yet mysterious endings I have ever read.

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