How the Dead Dream

How the Dead Dream book cover
How the Dead Dream, the first book in a trilogy, introduces T., a young developer with a reverence for money and the institutions of capital. Always restrained and solitary, he has just fallen in love for the first time when his orderly, upwardly mobile life is thrown into chaos by the appearance of his unbalanced mother, who comes to live with him after his father’s sudden desertion. In the wake of a series of devastating losses, T. begins to nurture a curious obsession with vanishing species, and is soon breaking into zoos at night to be with animals that are the last of their kind.


Praise and Reviews

“The writing is always flawlessly beautiful, reaching for an experience that precedes language itself.”

How the Dead Dream synthesizes the two styles of Millet’s fiction — the harrowing and the madcap — with a new elegance. The chapters are longer, the narrative voice more coherent, and, as a result, the outrage in her fiction achieves an unprecedented depth of focus.”
–The San Francisco Chronicle

“How the Dead Dream focuses on the quiet existential crisis that arises from living in a dying world… Yes, there’s an argument for environmental protection here, but what more profound is Millet’s understanding of the loneliness and alienation in a world being poisoned to death.”
–Washington Post

“Millet’s got a visionary sensibility, marked by a voice that is by turns biting and dark. Her books take on the absurdity of contemporary American culture, poking at it from the outside in … Millet’s sixth novel, How the Dead Dream … may finally get her the attention she deserves.”
–Los Angeles Times

“A frightening and gorgeous vision of human decline.”
–Utne Reader

“For a long time, Lydia Millet has had the makings of a great novelist. At least two of her five previous books have hinted at how far her gifts might take her, but her latest, How the Dead Dream, brings all her strengths into an impressive balance … she has pulled off her funniest, most shrewdly thoughtful and touching novel. If Kurt Vonnegut were still alive, he would be extremely jealous.”
–The Village Voice





His first idol was Andrew Jackson. He knew the vertical dart between the brows, the jutting chin, the narrow mouth; he knew the windblown coif that perched atop the great man’s forehead like a bird’s nest on a lonesome crag. Jackson’s face was fixed in a somewhat neutral expression and T. spent long hours trying to decide if it suggested idle speculation or a slight annoyance.

Running his fingers over the faded gray lithograph he imagined the once-president, a moment before the portraitist captured his aspect, being taken aback by a gently unpleasant sight: a horse dropping slow, deliberate pats in front of a government building, for instance, or a manservant picking his nose. But his opinion of Jackson was not diminished by this vision; rather he admired the great man for his composure in the face of the trivial. No passing insult could compel him to emote.

Jackson’s grave and finely etched countenance came to him in moments of anxiety and calmed his heart. And from Jackson he moved on to Hamilton, whose face was fraught with nobility and feminine grace despite a nose that was far from small. Hamilton had a homosexual way about him that lent an air of refinement to the ten-dollar bill. Jackson, on the more valuable twenty, nonetheless became a ruffian by comparison; Jackson was a more primitive version of the American statesman, a rudimentary model waiting to be superceded by gayer men with cleaner fingernails.

When he finally learned that Hamilton had, in fact, predeceased Jackson he was still not dissuaded in this. History often stumbled.

His allegiance to Hamilton lasted for several months. At times he found himself ranking the girls in his class on a scale of one to ten in terms of their resemblance to the former soldier of the Republic. None came close, he lamented; still he saw a trace of Hamilton’s light eyes in the plump face of Becky Spivak and his well-turned mouth on Gina Grosz, a victim of rosacea.

He needed a trace of the venerable and the upright close to him, in the grainy and familiar everyday. If he could detect an edge of arrogant pride in a skinny girl at a swim meet, say, jiggling a bare foot in the bleachers as she stared coolly at the other swimmers, he was pleased; he was reminded of the potential for all shackled beasts to break from their bonds and rise, their ragged wings beating, into the stratosphere. He clung to a vision of forward motion, the breath of hope that could lift individuals into posterity. He told himself every day of this latent capacity for eminence among humans, to the untrained eye so often hard to see. Rise, my sister! Rise, my brother! Soar.

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