Magnificence: A Novel

( 7 )

Overview

A woman embarks on a dazzling new phase in her life after inheriting a sprawling mansion and its vast collection of taxidermy.
Pulitzer Prize finalist Lydia Millet is "one of the most acclaimed novelists of her generation" (Scott Timberg, Los Angeles Times). Salon praised her for writing that is "always flawlessly beautiful, reaching for an experience that precedes language itself." The Village Voice added, "If Kurt Vonnegut were still alive, ...

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Magnificence

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Overview

A woman embarks on a dazzling new phase in her life after inheriting a sprawling mansion and its vast collection of taxidermy.
Pulitzer Prize finalist Lydia Millet is "one of the most acclaimed novelists of her generation" (Scott Timberg, Los Angeles Times). Salon praised her for writing that is "always flawlessly beautiful, reaching for an experience that precedes language itself." The Village Voice added, "If Kurt Vonnegut were still alive, he would be extremely jealous."
This stunning new novel presents Susan Lindley, a woman adrift after her husband’s death and the dissolution of her family. Embarking on a new phase in her life after inheriting her uncle’s sprawling mansion and its vast collection of taxidermy, Susan decides to restore the neglected, moth-eaten animal mounts, tending to “the fur and feathers, the beaks, the bones and shimmering tails.” Meanwhile an equally derelict human menagerie—including an unfaithful husband and a chorus of eccentric old women—joins her in residence.In a setting both wondrous and absurd, Susan defends her legacy from freeloading relatives and explores the mansion’s unknown spaces. Funny and heartbreaking, Magnificence explores evolution and extinction, children and parenthood, loss and revelation. The result is the rapturous final act to the critically acclaimed cycle of novels that began with How the Dead Dream.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
“Starred review. Millet brings her searching, bitterly funny, ecologically attuned trilogy of Los Angeles–based novels (How the Dead Dream, 2008; Ghost Lights, 2011) to a haunting crescendo. ...Millet is extraordinarily agile and powerful here, moving from light to shadow like a stalking lioness....”
The Guardian - Jonathan Lethem
“[Magnificence is] elegant, darkly comic…with overtones variously of Muriel Spark, Edward Gorey and J. G. Ballard, full of contemporary wit and devilish fateful turns for her characters, and then also to knit together into a tapestry of vast implication and ethical urgency, something as large as any writer could attempt: a kind of allegorical elegy for life on a dying planet. Ours, that is.”
Los Angeles Times - David 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.... [A]n 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....”
Boston Globe - Jenny Hendrix
“...[W]arm, moving, funny, earnest, hopeful, honest, and engaged in a way at odds with current literary fashion…Millet’s lush prose has you in her thrall from the start.”
San Francisco Chronicle - Mary Pols
“...[U]unnervingly talented Lydia Millet completes a trilogy... each stands independently; you can read just one of them if you please. But you won't want to, any more than you'd want to leave Chez Panisse after the appetizer.... There is something of Paula Fox in the way Millet provokes deep thinking without being overbearing. But I hate to compare Millet to anyone; she's truly an original.”
Daily Beast - Nicholas Mancusi
“Millet is simply an incredible writer. Her prose displays the exceedingly rare combination of philosophical introspection with poetic grace and flourish.”
Salon - Laura Miller
“[A] novel of ideas or philosophy, disguised as a portrait of one woman’s midlife upheaval.”
Minnesota Star Tribune - Michele Filgate
“Millet's writing is as lush as the house Susan lives in. There's a marvelous musicality to her prose; she's a writer who tackles human emotions with scientific precision and an artist's voice…. There's a cataloging going on here of the ways that people navigate the world once their world has shifted; Millet does a fine job of breathing life into people who are surrounded by dead things.”
Miami Herald - Christine Thomas
“There’s much to explore in Magnificence, which is ambitious, often funny and deliciously provocative. One needn’t have read the entire series to be consumed by its pleasures, but by the time you reach its beautiful end, considerable comfort lies in the existence of two more novels in which to delight in Millet’s writing and imagination.”
Jonathan Lethem - The Guardian
“[Magnificence is] elegant, darkly comic…with overtones variously of Muriel Spark, Edward Gorey and J. G. Ballard, full of contemporary wit and devilish fateful turns for her characters, and then also to knit together into a tapestry of vast implication and ethical urgency, something as large as any writer could attempt: a kind of allegorical elegy for life on a dying planet. Ours, that is.”
David Ulin - Los Angeles Times
“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.... [A]n 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....”
Jenny Hendrix - Boston Globe
“...[W]arm, moving, funny, earnest, hopeful, honest, and engaged in a way at odds with current literary fashion…Millet’s lush prose has you in her thrall from the start.”
Mary Pols - San Francisco Chronicle
“...[U]unnervingly talented Lydia Millet completes a trilogy... each stands independently; you can read just one of them if you please. But you won't want to, any more than you'd want to leave Chez Panisse after the appetizer.... There is something of Paula Fox in the way Millet provokes deep thinking without being overbearing. But I hate to compare Millet to anyone; she's truly an original.”
Nicholas Mancusi - Daily Beast
“Millet is simply an incredible writer. Her prose displays the exceedingly rare combination of philosophical introspection with poetic grace and flourish.”
Laura Miller - Salon
“[A] novel of ideas or philosophy, disguised as a portrait of one woman’s midlife upheaval.”
Michele Filgate - Minnesota Star Tribune
“Millet's writing is as lush as the house Susan lives in. There's a marvelous musicality to her prose; she's a writer who tackles human emotions with scientific precision and an artist's voice…. There's a cataloging going on here of the ways that people navigate the world once their world has shifted; Millet does a fine job of breathing life into people who are surrounded by dead things.”
Christine Thomas - Miami Herald
“There’s much to explore in Magnificence, which is ambitious, often funny and deliciously provocative. One needn’t have read the entire series to be consumed by its pleasures, but by the time you reach its beautiful end, considerable comfort lies in the existence of two more novels in which to delight in Millet’s writing and imagination.”
NewYorker.com
“Millet’s prose, which is both sensitive and strange... creates a thick atmosphere that immediately pulls the reader deep into this saga of love, death, sex, and taxidermy.”
The New York Times Book Review
Bad things happen in the surreal landscape of Lydia Millet's Los Angeles…But despite the smog, the traffic and the hideous, soul-killing office parks, you couldn't call this L.A. noir. It's as colorful as the flock of parrots that inexplicably flies through Millet's suburbs. Amid all the misery, a certain innate good nature—and a desire to survive—shine through. A three-legged dog that stumps through the novel could serve as a mascot for Millet's grim but grinning vision: tail wagging, the maimed dog just keeps on keepin' on.
—Lisa Zeidner
Publishers Weekly
Suddenly alone after the death of her husband, Susan Lindley is unmoored in Millet’s elegant meditation on death and what it means to be alone, even when you’re not, in this companion piece to How the Dead Dream and Ghost Lights. When Susan’s boss, T., goes missing in a Central American jungle, her husband, Hal, flies down to find him, a “generous” gesture that Susan sees as an “excuse to get away from her” after an “unpleasant discovery, namely her having sex with a co-worker on the floor of her office.” But when T. appears alone at the airport, bearing news that Hal has died in a mugging, Susan takes her husband’s death as “the punishment for her lifestyle.” Susan’s prickly, paraplegic adult daughter, Casey, who recently traded college for phone sex work, slips into a grief that “seemed to be shifting to melancholy,” which doesn’t help Susan assuage her guilty conscience; nor does the closeness of the relationship that begins to bud between Casey and T. But into the mourning comes an unexpected ray of light: Susan’s great uncle, whom she only vaguely remembers, wills her an enormous Pasadena estate overrun with taxidermy. Every room is filled with all manner of exotic beasts, divided into “themes.” Surprising everyone, including herself, Susan moves in and the taxidermy menagerie becomes a comfort, a way to bring order to a chaotic world, particularly when angry relatives come calling. A dazzling prose stylist, Millet elevates her story beyond that tired tale of a grieving widow struggling to move on, instead exploring grief and love as though they were animals to be stuffed, burrowing in deep and scooping out the innermost layers. Agent: Maria Massie, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (Nov.)
Flavorwire
[G]orgeous.— Emily Temple
San Francisco Chronicle
...[U]unnervingly talented Lydia Millet completes a trilogy... each stands independently; you can read just one of them if you please. But you won't want to, any more than you'd want to leave Chez Panisse after the appetizer.... There is something of Paula Fox in the way Millet provokes deep thinking without being overbearing. But I hate to compare Millet to anyone; she's truly an original.— Mary Pols
Boston Globe
...[W]arm, moving, funny, earnest, hopeful, honest, and engaged in a way at odds with current literary fashion…Millet’s lush prose has you in her thrall from the start.— Jenny Hendrix
New York Times Book Review
[A]s colorful as the flock of parrots that inexplicably flies through Millet’s suburbs… provocative, evocative.— Lisa Zeidner
The National
Millet's smooth, witty and at times intoxicatingly beautiful prose gulls us... [we] simply succumb to her lyricism, shrewd observations and abundant inventiveness. ...Bittersweet and brilliant, Magnificence is the worthy finale to a cycle of novels that shines an original light on the complexities of love and loss.— Malcolm Forbes
The Buffalo News.com
Lydia Millet probes life’s meaning as only Lydia Millet can in Magnificence—the third and perhaps most striking, novel in a trilogy that is, at once, comic, tragic, and strange as can be…. A veritable feast for the mind (and the funny bone).— Karen Brady
The Guardian
[Magnificence is] elegant, darkly comic…with overtones variously of Muriel Spark, Edward Gorey and J. G. Ballard, full of contemporary wit and devilish fateful turns for her characters, and then also to knit together into a tapestry of vast implication and ethical urgency, something as large as any writer could attempt: a kind of allegorical elegy for life on a dying planet. Ours, that is.— Jonathan Lethem
Los Angeles Times
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.... [A]n 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....— David Ulin
Minnesota Star Tribune
Millet's writing is as lush as the house Susan lives in. There's a marvelous musicality to her prose; she's a writer who tackles human emotions with scientific precision and an artist's voice…. There's a cataloging going on here of the ways that people navigate the world once their world has shifted; Millet does a fine job of breathing life into people who are surrounded by dead things.— Michele Filgate
Miami Herald
There’s much to explore in Magnificence, which is ambitious, often funny and deliciously provocative. One needn’t have read the entire series to be consumed by its pleasures, but by the time you reach its beautiful end, considerable comfort lies in the existence of two more novels in which to delight in Millet’s writing and imagination.— Christine Thomas
Elle
[A] rousing finish to an admired cycle of novels.... [S]urprising, elemental, funny, shred, and affecting.— Julia Holmes
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Exquisite and wholly original.— Tricia Springstubb
Daily Beast
Millet is simply an incredible writer. Her prose displays the exceedingly rare combination of philosophical introspection with poetic grace and flourish.— Nicholas Mancusi
Salon
[A] novel of ideas or philosophy, disguised as a portrait of one woman’s midlife upheaval.— Laura Miller
Library Journal
Still mourning the death of her husband, Susan Findley is given a chance at reclamation when she inherits her grand-uncle's enchanting Pasadena, CA, mansion and immediately sets about to restore its taxidermy collection to pristine perfection. Alas, a few less than pristine relations drop in to stay. More eerily incisive work from Pulitzer Prize finalist Millet.
Library Journal
Death and damage hover over the tenth work of fiction by Pulitzer Prize finalist Millet (Love in Infant Monkeys), yet it's a refreshingly buoyant and unsentimental tale. After her husband's death, Susan Lindley seeks a new direction, which she finds unexpectedly in an inherited mansion full of taxidermied animals. Into that house she eventually welcomes an assortment of people also in need of repair, including an unhappily married man and an elderly woman who needs to be needed. Beyond the activities of this menagerie is a plot about the psychic healing of Susan's daughter, confined to a wheelchair years before as the result of a car accident. The characters all find a kind of salvation, but in very convincing ways. The story develops naturally, an ironic contrast to the artificiality of the preserved animals, and the novel becomes a lyrical meditation on what it takes to survive and evolve. VERDICT Recommended for fans of How the Dead Dream and Ghost Lights, the first two books in this trilogy. Millet's spare but powerful prose also calls to mind the work of J.M. Coetzee. [See Prepub Alert, 5/12/12.]—Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC
Kirkus Reviews
Millet's conclusion of the trilogy that includes How the Dead Dream (2008) and Ghost Lights (2011) draws a detailed map of the healing process of an adulterous wife who suddenly finds herself a widow. Susan's husband, Hal, goes to Belize in search of Susan's employer ,T., a real estate tycoon who has gone missing. (Spoiler alert: Readers of the earlier novels who don't want to know what happens to T. or Hal, stop reading now.) Hal's quest is successful: T. returns to Los Angeles. But he's alone, because Hal has been fatally knifed in a mugging. Susan is both grief- and guilt-stricken. She genuinely loved Hal but has been seeking sex with other men ever since a car accident left their daughter, Casey, a paraplegic. She believes Hal went to Belize largely to recover after discovering her infidelity. Millet's early chapters insightfully delve into Susan's internal anguish as she tries to come to grips with the seismic change in her life caused by Hal's death. Her intense maternal love for Casey, who refuses the role of noble victim, is as prickly and complicated as her mourning; her capacity for experiencing extremes of selflessness and selfishness within a heartbeat is refreshingly human and recognizable. Plot machinations get a little creaky, though once Susan sells her house and coincidentally inherits a mansion full of stuffed animals from a great-uncle she barely remembers. Bringing the mansion back to life and figuring out the secret of her uncle's legacy take over Susan's life. The deeply honest, beautiful meditations on love, grief and guilt give way to a curlicued comic-romantic mystery complete with a secret basement and assorted eccentrics.
The Barnes & Noble Review
The heroine of Lydia Millet's Magnificence, Susan Lindley, has just inherited a house from a vaguely remembered great-uncle who died a few months earlier. Set among nearly twenty acres of overgrown gardens, the property is a vast, untended 1920s mansion, located in one of the richest neighborhoods in Pasadena, California. Even more remarkable than the estate's size are its contents: it's crammed with room after room of molting taxidermy specimens of every size and shape. There are legions of mounted deer heads, cheetahs frozen in mid- leap, parliaments of stuffed owls, timber wolves in glass cabinets, minks on the sideboard. One bedroom shelters a diorama of rainforest creatures, while others contain tableaux of Himalayan ruminants or Arctic foxes. In the dim library, there's an ossified jamboree of bears.

Susan is justifiably unnerved by the house's contents when she leaves the modest Santa Monica home where she's lived for many years and moves in, vowing to get rid of all the animals and redecorate from bottom to top. Yet almost immediately she finds herself delighting in the stuffed curiosities, and wondering how they got there. Unlikely as it seems, the old house with its tattered menagerie represents a chance for her to metamorphose from an ordinary and very troubled forty-eight-year-old woman into "a queen, the private, unseen monarch of a kingdom of dust and faded velvet and the great horns of beasts."

Those troubles of Susan's are both old and new, as Millet's fans will recognize, since Magnificence is the final novel in a trilogy that began with How the Dead Dream and Ghost Lights. (It can easily be read on its own, but is much enhanced by the two previous books.) Her daughter is a depressed paraplegic in her early twenties who's been working as a phone sex operator. Susan's boss, a property developer turned eco-warrior, is dismantling his real-estate business, signaling a probable end to her secretarial job. The most grievous of her misfortunes is the most recent: her husband, a mild-mannered IRS agent named Hal, had been travelling in Belize when he was stabbed to death during a random street robbery. Blindsided by this sudden tragedy, Susan is also considerably guilt-ridden, because Hal had discovered evidence before he left for Belize that she had been coping with the stress of her daughter's disability by pursuing sexual flings with near-strangers.

As dramatic as all this sounds, the things that happen in Millet's trilogy are never the main events. In each of the three books, Millet makes sure that the protagonist's thought process, not the action, dominates the narrative space. (Respectively, those streams of consciousness belong to T., Susan's boss, in How the Dead Dream; her husband, Hal, in Ghost Lights; and Susan herself in Magnificence.) These long-running interior monologues, coolly composed in the third person, unspool as the characters try (and mostly fail) to make sense of their outlandish circumstances. Their rhythms are remarkably true to life and punctuated with dark humor. Susan, for instance, grappling with her guilt over the incidental way in which her adulterous behavior propelled Hal to take his fatal trip to Belize, privately refers to herself as "the murderer": "the murderer poured a cup of coffee," she narrates silently; "the murderer went to sleep." And a page later: "The murderer inherited a house full of deer."

A heroine more haunted than the creepy mansion she moves into is a spectacular subject, and Millet does not waste the opportunity. Because she's an elliptical rather than a revelatory writer, Millet provides only indirect access to Susan's grief over Hal, which shows up quite realistically in the form of distracting housekeeping projects rather than in frank emotional outpourings. Susan plunges into the monumental task of restoring the estate and its deteriorating contents, becoming more and more invested in her claim. With near-obsessive resolve, she fends off a couple of nosy cousins who question her legal entitlement to the property. At the same time, she offers hospitality to an assortment of needy acquaintances who seek refuge, as she does, in the house's museum-like recesses.

Millet endows the mansion with a deliciously surreal presence, its spaces expanding and contracting as if in a dream, its design as playfully sinister as the mise-en-scène of Psycho or The Shining or Mark Z. Danielewski's novel House of Leaves. And how cleverly Millet lends credibility to her ghost house, surrounding it with meticulously accurate Los Angeles details: the squawking flocks of wild parrots zigzagging overhead; the students from the nearby Art Center design college who come to help organize the mounted specimens; the precise time — almost forty minutes — it takes to drive on empty freeways at two in the morning from Pasadena to Santa Monica.

What to make of all those exotic animals, once wild, now moribund and warehoused in a manic collector's dream home? Millet, who has a master's degree in environmental policy from Duke, is never shy about her preoccupation with the shrinking dimensions of the natural world. The role of the extinct specimens here is to highlight how little we know about their bygone grandeur — and how limited, in Millet's view, is human understanding in general. "There was something she should be learning about them," Susan tells herself as she prowls among the animals at night, "but she didn't know what." It's their mystery that lends this book its magnificence, making it the most powerful in the trilogy and superior also to novels with more strident eco- political messages. Millet will only offer hints of the secrets here, in this elegantly disquieting novel with the baleful message that "you lived your life in a small part of the world, with only the faintest inkling of what was everywhere else."

Donna Rifkind's reviews appear frequently in The Washington Post Book World and the Los Angeles Times. She has also been a contributor to The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Times Literary Supplement, The American Scholar, and other publications. In 2006, she was a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.

Reviewer: Donna Rifkind

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393346855
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/11/2013
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 953,034
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Lydia Millet

Lydia Millet is the author of twelve previous books of fiction. Her novel Ghost Lights was a New York Times Notable Book; its sequel Magnificence was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle and Los Angeles Times Awards in fiction; and her story collectionLove in Infant Monkeys was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She lives outside Tucson, Arizona.

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Customer Reviews

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( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 26, 2013

    I haven't read the book, but I had to comment on the review titl

    I haven't read the book, but I had to comment on the review titled "Rondom," which said the rater "dint like this book" and the book "was a waist of money." The rater told us not to "get thish book" because "i dont like the style of writing or the charictors." The rater "hayed" the book." Is any literate person going to trust the review of a person who cannot spell correctly or punctuate properly? I certainly hope not.

    3 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2013

    Rondom

    I dint like this book even my mom said it was a waist of money. Do not get thish book i dont like the style of writing or the charictors.
    I would rate it a two, my sister reads EVERYTHING and loves it she read this and hayed it in other words dont read it

    2 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2012

    Dancelover23

    I love this book because it is a book that i would not want to put down and for all you people out there who either read this book or not i am just letting you know that i hope you enjoyed this book and if you haven't read it yet you will like it but that is your opinion not mine so for people who haven't read it yet you will not want to put it down

    2 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2013

    Person

    Not very good at all

    1 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2012

    Bad

    Very bad

    1 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2013

    very moving!

    This book is well written, easy to read, and it felt like I was living among these characters. I think the author made a strong point abt the vulnerability of wild animals in a world dominated by humans with little concern for their survival.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 28, 2013

    LAB54 I'm with you! Makes me want to purchase and send them an

    LAB54 I'm with you! Makes me want to purchase and send them an ABC Primer. The book was okay - not great - but okay. The author definitely has a different style of writing than I am used to but it was something different to read about. A welcomed break after my recent James Patterson "serial killer" bing.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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