Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"How the Dead Dream"

Lydia Millet is the author of Omnivores, George Bush, Dark Prince of Love, My Happy Life, a winner of the 2003 PEN-USA Award for Fiction, Everyone’s Pretty, and Oh Pure and Radiant Heart.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel How the Dead Dream, and reported the following:
How the Dead Dream is the first book in a trilogy. It tells the story of a young businessman, T., who after a chain of emotional blows becomes obsessed with vanishing animals and begins breaking into zoos to be more intimate with them.

On page 69 T., is having a conversation with his mother, who’s just come out of a coma following what may or may not have been a suicide attempt. As we open to the page she’s in the middle of telling him about the afterlife: she’s been to the other side and now she’s reporting back. And she’s not happy.

As a lifelong Catholic, devout and passionate, she was both shocked and confused to discover the afterlife was, in fact, nothing more than an IHOP.

“You believe me, don’t you,” whispered his mother, reaching for his face. “You believe me.”

“Of course I do,” he whispered back.

“I was surprised. I thought it would be heaven, T. But it was bad, very bad,” said his mother, and moved her feet suddenly beneath the sheet. “It was the International House of Pancakes.”

“I’m surprised too,” said T.

“I thought it would be more expensive than that.”

He studied her face to see if he could detect humor but there was nothing, only a vague and yet urgent concern.

“We’re just glad to have you here with us,” he said, and leaned down to kiss her cheek.

“I don’t want to go back there again,” she said, and closed her eyes. “I must have done something wrong, T. Something very wrong to go there.”

“I’m going to get the doctor now,” said the nurse. “And you best be letting her get some rest. Visiting hour’s almost done anyways.”

“Sure,” he said.

Before he left he reached over and removed the barrettes.

Dialogue pages are different from prose pages, of course, so while this excerpt might serve as a decent sample of an interaction between two characters, it shows little about the interior passages of the book, which are not conversation but rumination. But the mother’s odd preoccupation with her time in the IHOP, which begins here, is in a way typical of the absurdist aspect of How the Dead Dream, which derives from the competition between the sublime and the mundane.
Read an excerpt from How the Dead Dream. Learn more about the author and her writing at the How the Dead Dream publisher's website and Lydia Millet's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue