Millet, Lydia 1968–
MILLET, Lydia 1968–
Born December 5, 1968, in Boston, MA; daughter of Nicholas B. (an Egyptologist) and Saralaine (an editor) Millet. Education: Attended Université Paul Valéry, 1987-88, and London School of Economics and Political Science, 1989; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, A.B. (summa cum laude), 1990; Duke University, M.E.M., 1996.
Writer and editor.
PEN-USA Award for Fiction, 2003, for My Happy Life.
Omnivores (novel), Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 1996.
George Bush, Dark Prince of Love: A Presidential Romance, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.
Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, Soft Skull Press (Brooklyn, NY), 2005.
Everyone's Pretty (novel), Soft Skull Press (Brooklyn, NY), 2005.
American author Lydia Millet preceded her career in fiction first by collecting academic distinctions at the University of North Carolina and Duke University, then by working in Los Angeles as a copy editor on such magazines as Busty Beauties and Hustler. She made an auspicious debut in 1996 with her novel, Omnivores. The darkly comic novel—concerning the wayward life of an eighteen-year-old eccentric named Estee Kraft, who escapes her mad-scientist father for an equally bizarre yuppie lifestyle in Los Angeles—was both hailed and dismissed, sometimes in the same review. "Feisty but sometimes awkward," was the way a Publishers Weekly writer characterized Omnivores. Millet's dystopian view of modern America, the review continued, slows down because of the "cartoonish behavior of its … characters." Megan Harlan of Entertainment Weekly was less concerned by thematic points, applauding the novel's "deft prose."
In Omnivores, Estee is presented as a young woman of no pretense. When she leaves home and moves to Los Angeles, gets pregnant and delivers a monstrous, omnivorous child, the book "almost feels like another novel," noted Stephen Smith, writing in Quill & Quire. MetroActive reviewer Michael Mechanic found that the author's novel combines "humor, violence and cultural criticism" in a way that makes Millet's novel "thought-provoking reading."
Millet's 1999 novel surfaced with the attention-getting title George Bush, Dark Prince of Love: A Presidential Romance. The story, which opens in 1989, hinges on a woman's unexpected obsession with the newly elected forty-first president. Protagonist Rosemary, who already has a rap sheet and an elderly live-in boyfriend, relentlessly pursues the object of her affection, up to a fateful meeting at the White House. Along the way, Bush's public gaffes are "milked for all they're worth" said a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Each of the book's chapters begins with "one of President Bush's memorably maladroit remarks." And one Publishers Weekly critic noted that the author's novel contained "some real belly laughs."
In 2002, Millet published her next novel, My Happy Life. The main character in this work is also a troubled woman, one who has grown up in extremely trying circumstances. She was abandoned as a baby and abused in various foster homes. Millet's nameless character ends up incarcerated and then confined to an abandoned psychiatric hospital, but through all of this pain she maintains an unusual innocence and positive outlook on her life. At the same time, she begins a search for the baby who was taken from her. Overall, My Happy Life garnered positive reviews from readers and critics. Many enjoyed the author's talent for exposing a complex character. The book is a "miracle of linguistic compression laced with venomous irony," wrote Donna Seaman in a review for Booklist. Others found that Millet tells a story both unusual and relatable. The author gives readers a book that marks a "courageous and memorable achievement" for Millet, observed one Publishers Weekly contributor. Millet went on to achieve tangible critical acclaim for My Happy Life by winning the 2003 PEN-USA Award for Fiction for the book.
In 2005, Millet followed up My Happy Life with the novel Oh Pure and Radiant Heart. Main character Ann, a librarian living in New Mexico, dreams about the deceased Manhattan Project physicists Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard, and somehow wills them back into existence. Ann discovers the three near her home one day and convinces her husband, Ben, to welcome them into their home. Together, they then journey to Los Alamos and Hiroshima to view the consequences of the creation of the atomic bomb. Critics again responded positively to Millet's novel, finding that the author was able to adeptly create a believable story out of an idea that is highly unusual. Oh Pure and Radiant Heart contains "lyrical realism, brilliantly engineered fantasy, and madcap yet keen satire," noted one Booklist contributor. Likewise, other reviewers found that the author addressed deep concerns and issues yet kept the tone of the novel lighthearted at times and brilliantly written. Millet's novel is a "shattering and beautiful work," wrote Jennifer Reese in a review for Entertainment Weekly.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of My Happy Life, p. 811; January 1, 2006, review of Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, p. 6.
Entertainment Weekly, June 28, 1996, Megan Farlan, review of Omnivores, p. 101; July 8, 2005, Jennifer Reese, review of Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, p. 72.
Publishers Weekly, February 26, 1996, review of Omnivores, p. 81; November 29, 1999, review of George Bush, Dark Prince of Love: A Presidential Romance, p. 52; October 29, 2001, review of My Happy Life, p. 32.
Quill & Quire, May 1, 1996, Stephen Smith, review of Omnivores, p. 27.