December 5, 1968 |
Lydia Millet (born 5 December 1968) is an American novelist. Her third novel, My Happy Life, won the 2003 PEN Center USA Award for Fiction. Salon wrote of Millet's work, "The writing is always flawlessly beautiful, reaching for an experience that precedes language itself."
Millet was born in Boston, Massachusetts and raised in Toronto, Canada. She holds a BA in Creative Writing with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master's degree from Duke University. Millet lives in Tucson, Arizona with her two children. She holds a master’s in environmental policy from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and worked for Natural Resources Defense Council for two years before joining the Center for Biological Diversity in 1999 as a staff writer.
Millet is best known for her dark sense of humor, stylistic versatility, and political bent. Her first book, Omnivores (1996), is a subversion of the coming-of-age novel, in which a young girl in Southern California is tormented by her megalomaniac father and invalid mother and finally sold in marriage to a real estate agent. Her second, George Bush, Dark Prince of Love (2000), is a political comedy about a trailer-park woman obsessed with the 41st American President.
Brief but weighty, her third book, My Happy Life (2002), is a poetic, language-oriented work about a lonely misfit trapped in an abandoned hospital, who writes the poignant story of her life on the walls.. It is narrated by, as the Village Voice glowing deems her, “an orphan cruelly mistreated by life who nevertheless regards her meager subsistence as a radiant gift.” Despite the horrors that amount to her life, she still calls herself happy. Jennifer Reese of The New York Times Book Review commented on Millet's new approach to the treatment of the literary victim, saying “Millet has created a truly wretched victim, but where is the outrage? She has coolly avoided injecting so much as a hint of it into this thin, sharp and frequently funny novel; one of the narrator's salient characteristics is an inability to feel even the mildest indignation. The world she inhabits is a savage place, but everything about it interests her, and paying no attention to herself, she is able to see beauty and wonder everywhere.”
Millet's fourth novel, Everyone's Pretty (2005), is a picaresque tragicomedy about an alcoholic pornographer with messianic delusions, based partly on Millet's stint as a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications. . Sarah Weinman of the Washington Post Book World called it “both prism and truth” “With a sharp eye for small details, a keen sense of the absurd and strong empathy for its creations,” Millet creates a kaleidoscope of quirky characters. The New York Times Book Review called her fifth novel, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart (2005), an “extremely smart…resonant fantasy.” It brings three of the physicists responsible for creating the atomic bomb to life in modern-day New Mexico, where they acquire a cult following and embark on a crusade for redemption.
How the Dead Dream (2008) “a frightening and gorgeous view of human decline,” according to Utne Reader. It features a young Los Angeles real estate developer consumed by power and political ambitions who, after his mother's suicide attempt and two other deaths, begins to nurture a curious obsession with vanishing species. Then a series of calamities forces him from a tropical island, the site on one of his developments, onto the mainland where he takes a Conrad-esque journey up a river into the remote jungle. Eye Weekly summarized this black comedy, noting “American culture loves its stories of hubris, downfall and ruin as of late, but it takes a writer of Millet's sensitivity to enjoy the way down this much.”
Love in Infant Monkeys (2010) is a short story collection featuring vignettes about famous historical and pop culture icons and their encounters with other species.
Her 2011 novel, Ghost Lights, made best-of-the-year lists in the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle and received strong critical attention. The novel stars an IRS bureaucrat named Hal—a man baffled by his wife’s obsession with her missing employer. In a moment of drunken heroism, Hal embarks on a quest to find the man, embroiling himself in a surreal tropical adventure (and an unexpected affair with a beguiling German woman). Ghost Lights is beautifully written, engaging, and full of insight into the heartbreaking devotion of parenthood and the charismatic oddity of human behavior. The Boston Globe called it “[An] odd and wonderful novel”, while the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote, "Millet is that rare writer of ideas who can turn a ruminative passage into something deeply personal. She can also be wickedly funny, most often at the expense of the unexamined life."
Magnificence introduces 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 extensive collection of 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 September 2012 release of Shimmers in the Night is the second in The Dissenters, an eco-fantasy series for young adults. Beginning with The Fires Beneath the Sea, the plot follows two young siblings as they search for their mother, Cara, a shapeshifting character who is fighting against forces who wants to make the planet over in its own image, which leaves no space for anything else, animal, insect, or human.
Awards and honors 
- 2003 PEN Center USA Award for Fiction for My Happy Life
- 2005 Arthur C. Clark Award shortlist for Oh Pure and Radiant Heart
- 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Love in Infant Monkeys
- 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for Magnificence
- 2012 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship 
- John Williams (January 14, 2012). "National Book Critics Circle Names 2012 Award Finalists". New York Times. Retrieved January 15, 2013.
- Author site
- Lydia Millet author page at W. W. Norton
- HarperCollins Canada
- Video trailer for Oh Pure and Radiant Heart