The New York Times Book Review
Ghost Lightsby Lydia Millet
“Surreal, darkly hilarious and profound.”—San Francisco ChronicleGhost Lights stars an IRS bureaucrat named Hal—a man baffled by his wife’s obsession with her young employer, T., and haunted by the accident that paralyzed his daughter, Casey. In a moment of drunken heroism, Hal embarks on a quest to find T.—/em>/p>/em>
“Surreal, darkly hilarious and profound.”—San Francisco ChronicleGhost Lights stars an IRS bureaucrat named Hal—a man baffled by his wife’s obsession with her young employer, T., and haunted by the accident that paralyzed his daughter, Casey. In a moment of drunken heroism, Hal embarks on a quest to find T.—the protagonist of Lydia Millet’s much-lauded novel How the Dead Dream—who has vanished in a jungle. On his trip to Central America, Hal embroils himself in a surreal tropical adventure, descending into strange and unpredictable terrain (and an unexpected affair with a beguiling German woman).
Ghost Lights is Millet at her best—beautifully written, engaging, full of dead-on insights into the heartbreaking devotion of parenthood and the charismatic oddity of human behavior. The book draws us into a darkly humorous, sometimes off-kilter world where bonds of affection remain a reliable magnetic north. Ghost Lights is a startling, comic, and surprisingly philosophical story.
The New York Times Book Review
Can it be a coincidence that this year — when the issue of taxes has become an abyss that both divides and conquers our national government — we also have two new books about IRS workers by important novelists of ideas? The first, of course, is David Foster Wallace’s posthumously published The Pale King.... The second is Lydia Millet’s new novel, Ghost Lights....
...Millet is seldom compared to J.M Coetzee, who seems an obvious and fruitful influence on...Ghost Lights.... Their prose has a similar, lovely stillness, and both portray characters nudged beyond typical human navel-gazing.... Laura Miller
Can it be a coincidence that this year when the issue of taxes has become an abyss that both divides and conquers our national government we also have two new books about IRS workers by important novelists of ideas? The first, of course, is David Foster Wallace’s posthumously published The Pale King.... The second is Lydia Millet’s new novel, Ghost Lights....
...Millet is seldom compared to J.M Coetzee, who seems an obvious and fruitful influence on...Ghost Lights.... Their prose has a similar, lovely stillness, and both portray characters nudged beyond typical human navel-gazing....”
Thomas Stern, who prefers to be called T, was in Belize on business. Now he's been out of touch for weeks. Susan, dedicated assistant to the young mogul, is worried, as is Casey, her paraplegic daughter. Hal Lindley, husband and father, cares little. Hal thinks mostly about Casey's happiness, at least when he isn't plagued by angst over the accident that paralyzed her. Drifting and remote, Hal considers himself as "comfortable in the background." He's soon launched out of his ennui when he discovers shaky evidence Susan is having an affair with Robert, her office's paralegal. As Hal fumbles for proof, Susan decides to hire an investigator to find T. Hal volunteers, suggesting his profession as an IRS agent provides the experience to trace a person's whereabouts. Susan is shocked and confused. Casey, platonically devoted to T, thinks her father heroic. In Belize, Hal languishes, missing the "the security of known formulations and structures." Fleeing the circumstances of his cuckolding, Hal isn't especially eager to find T. Then he meets a vacationing German couple, Hans and Gretel, who push him into action. Hans, in fact, has military contacts and uses them to arrange a Coast Guard search party. Millet is a gifted writer, often dropping droll and sardonic throw-away lines of surprisingly insightful humor. The narrative moves smartly, and the dialogue is believable, as is Hal's existential internal monologue. Flailing about attempting to find T, Hal becomes a sympathetic protagonist. While Susan is not deeply imagined, Millet's narrative of Hal breaking free of an emotional cage is strikingly well done. Millet also deserves recognition for her perceptive treatment of Casey's disability and how it resonates in the family and in the world.
Literary fiction with a deep vein of wry social commentary.
Meet the Author
Lydia Millet is the author of the novels Sweet Lamb of Heaven, Mermaids in Paradise, Ghost Lights (a New York Times Notable Book), Magnificence (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize) and other books. Her story collection Love in Infant Monkeys was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She lives outside Tucson, Arizona.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This book being the second in a series, I thought Millet did a great job bringing T back from How The Dead Dream and bringing characters from that first book to the front in this one. I love her writing style. Great novel!
Although the book received good reviews, I did not enjoy it as much as most folks. I found it to be long and drawn out, didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but maybe I missed something.
When asked about her close brush with the Pulitzer Prize at the Tucson Festival of Books, Lydia Millet was ironic and self-effacing. This is only the second Lydia Millet book I've read, but please, people, give this lady a prize! In Ghost Lights, the reader enjoys the inexorable pull of the writing through the richest and most banal details of a life that takes on a much greater meaning than itself by the bittersweet end. This part two follows the husband of a woman who worked for T., the long-suffering protagonist of How The Dead Dream, as he goes to Belize without much hope of recovering T.'s body. The plot twists and surprises are almost as enjoyable as the je ne sais quoi of the writing. How does Millet manage to capture the... whatever it is she captures? At the Book Festival, I learned that there is a third book planned that follows these characters, and I will be sure to pick it up right away.