Readersforum's Blog

November 17, 2012

Love, loss and taxidermy in Lydia Millet’s ‘Magnificence’

The novelist tackles big ideas, including the losing battle for survival.

By David L. Ulin

Lydia Millet’s “Magnificence” is a novel of ideas. I mean that as a high compliment, for the ideas Millet invokes are the only ones that matter: life, death, love, longing, extinction, the ongoing existential quandary of what we are doing here.

The final installment in the trilogy that began with 2008’s “How the Dead Dream” and continued with last year’s “Ghost Lights” is an ambitious book, not so much for the sweep of its action, which is essentially domestic, but for its deep and nuanced investigation of inner life.

“In an instant,” Millet writes, “the whole of existence could go from familiar to alien; all it took was one event in your personal life. You might think you were only a mass of particles in the rest of everything, a mass exchanging itself, bit by bit, with other masses, but then you were blindsided and all you knew was the numbness of separation.”

An event like that is the precipitating event of “Magnificence,” the big bang from which the novel expands.

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