"We know so little about our molecules, she thought, the molecules we are ... so little about them. A proof they're in control: they guide our hands, they make us grow, they form our children inside our bodies - miracles come from them, all that has ever been, all that will be. Meanwhile our conscious selves perform their rudimentary acts, those simple sums. What shall I be, whom shall I love: those are the easy parts, behaviors that we call ourselves, they're only the icing, floral borders, all that we think we are is trivial while what we really are is not even known to us. If there is a machine, a ghost in the machine - they always said the machine was the body, didn't they? Philosophers? - but no! The body's both of them, machine and ghost. The body's not only the vessel but also its spirit, the body is visible but its animators impossible to see. Materialism, she thought, sure - she might be a proponent. But she didn't like the flatness of answers, the stolid and dull arithmetic of being, not at all! Rather the glory of the unseen. She believed in the ineffable, great mystery, great creation, only that it was lodged in molecules, in molecules, beyond the human ability to see."
Lydia Millet Magnificence Pg 208 - 209
So now you can see what I have been doing through that last long drought between my December post and the last one. Magnificence, and the previous two novels in the trilogy, have entranced my attention, bringing to life exotic locales and quotidian problems all at once.
In How the Dead Dream, we are introduced to T, a materialistic young man, who suddenly finds his life altered by a random accident. This accident brings into play one of the main themes of the trilogy, that of animals. T hits a coyote with his fancy car, purchased with the funds garnered through savvy real estate dealings. Suddenly faced with the ugly realities of death, T begins following a new path, seeking out endangered and pitiable creatures, and then striving to do right by them. T's newfound caring attitude is not limited to animals alone, but also extends to the humans around him, mainly Casey, the paralyzed daughter of his secretary Susan. After following T's remarkable transformation, the reader is left in the dark as the novel ends with T's disappearance into the jungles of a Caribbean country.
Seriously boggled by her employer's vanishing, Susan's husband Hal becomes our narrator and takes on the case, heading down to find T in the second novel, Ghost Lights. Confused and out of sorts, Hal resorts to calling on the aid of the local people to help him find the missing man. Despite being beleaguered by translation issues and problems at home, Hal ventures into the wild, coming into contact not only with the regional wildlife, but with foreign visitors from across the globe. He finds himself struggling between responsibilities at home, midlife confusion, and the lure of the exotic. Towards the end of the novel, Hal eventually finds T, but all is not well. Again we are left with a cliffhanger with both men in dire straits in the shady capital city.
Spoiler alert! The final novel in the trilogy brings the reader back home to California where Susan takes up the role of narrator. T returns home, but Hal is with him in body only and not in spirit. After a random altercation prior to coming back to the states, Hal was stabbed and dies, unfulfilled and emotionally alone. Despite blaming herself for his death, Susan finds herself enthralled by her new surroundings due to the inheritance of her uncle's home. As she navigates the new world of owning a historic home, Susan is constantly surprised, first by her daughter's wedding to T (although we all saw that coming) and then by her newfound responsibility of being caretaker for T's mother, who is plagued with dementia. The old house comes with a molding collection of taxidermic animals from around the world. These frighten and confuse Susan at first, but she finds herself falling under their spell and experiencing thoughts such as those quoted above. This novel finally gives readers some closure with regards to the characters, but still leaves us reeling as we contemplate the awe inspiring ideas that Susan bethinks.
All in all, this trilogy was worth the hassle of having to request, renew and search out the proper reading order and I am oh so glad I took the plunge and read them all. At the end of the saga, Lydia Millet proves that she is not only a remarkable story teller, but a giver of ideas too complex and important to ponder over while just reading. I know I for one will be considering these characters and their experiences for quite some time.