Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet: A review
In 2020, I read and loved Lydia Millet's last book, A Children's Bible, so obviously I was going to read her new book as well. This one was a different kind of story, but Millet has lost none of her edge as a writer.
The protagonist here is named Gil. He is an extremely wealthy forty-five-year-old man. His wealth is inherited and he apparently has never actually held down a job except for a very short time as a bartender. He seems to feel quite guilty about his wealth and he tries to expiate that guilt by doing a lot of volunteer community service type work.
Gil was orphaned as a child and was raised by his grandmother, but she, too, died when he was still a teenager. Now, he has no family and few friends and no really strong ties to Manhattan where he lives. He surprises those who do know him by deciding to move to Phoenix. Even more surprisingly, he decides to walk there! A 2500-mile walk will take about five months and will allow him to experience life as he never has before.
Millet does not waste much ink on the actual walk, but Gil makes it to Phoenix and moves into a suburban home, meets his neighbors, and begins to form friendships. He learns to relate to Nature and spends much of his time alone and watching the birds in his neighborhood. He muses about these birds and about the world of Nature:
“But being alone was also a closed loop. A loop with a slipknot, say. The loop could be small or large, but it always returned to itself. You had to untie the knot, finally. Open the loop and then everything sank in. And everyone. Then you could see what was true—that separateness had always been the illusion. A simple trick of flesh. The world was inside you after that. Because, after all, you were made of two people only at the very last instant. Before that, of a multiplication so large it couldn’t be fathomed. Back and back in time. A tree in a forest of trees, where men grew from apes and birds grew from dinosaurs.”
Interestingly, the writer names each chapter of the book after a bird that occurs in Gil's environment. Her descriptions of Nature in those chapters and of Gil's reactions to it are quite lyrical.
This is a book to be read slowly and savored. There's very little drama here; it's just a story about ordinary people and their ordinary lives. Well, maybe most "ordinary" people are not quite as wealthy as Gil and they do have to worry about jobs and how the bills are going to get paid, but he tends to eschew most of the trappings of wealth and simply tries to become a part of the everyday life of his neighborhood.
I only had one complaint about the book and that was in regard to its structure. The narrative switches between past and present and that, of course, is not unusual in literary fiction, but I found the transitions to be rather abrupt and even disruptive to the story at times. Still, that was a fairly minor quibble and, on the whole, I liked the book very much. Maybe not quite as much as A Children's Bible but close.