I was entranced by this book; it's funny, smart, so well-written, moving.
If he could detect an air 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 free of 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.
Lydia Millet's novel begins with her protagonist, T., a young boy, enthralled with the abstracted wonder of capital. He seeks to make money, to turn one into two and then twenty--not as some means, no end in mind: accrual is its own reward. Or, rather, the accumulation of all that money seems a way to step away from and master the world, like that skinny girl appraising the competitors. He loves the market as a marker of cool, controlling rationality. The self, shaping the system to his will.
The novel leaps forward in time, and T. becomes quite accomplished. And the novel bends him back to earth in a series of surprising, sometimes small, sometimes shattering events: a coyote hit by a car; an employee's daughter, paralyzed; a fascination with zoos; a dog found and lost; a hurricane. The arc of the novel is often sad, moving--but also revelatory. Because T. over this course of events more fully recognizes, is battered by, and ultimately embraces how fully embedded in the world we are, how foolish the dream of Self above all.
Millet's novel isn't some simple sermon, nor does its casual brilliance about economics and environmental policy drown the reader in information. The sadness is steeped in waves of witty prose: like the excerpt above, lovely images, observations and keen clever phrases cascading like waves between commas. It is often precisely funny. I was reminded of Atwood, Roth, Egan--stylists with a seeming casual facility that belies their craft. But it does have much on its mind. Its vision of the otherness of animals, its venom about our alienation from one another and the world, are a challenge to the reader. Because there is no breaking free, not much to posterity; the inevitable end awaits all. Yet there's a love and vision there, still, even, despite.
You'll leap to such challenges; Millet will seduce you. I loved the novel. It is part of a loose thematic/inter-plotted trilogy, and I dutifully--delightedly--grabbed the second, and then set it aside, wanting to savor it a bit.