Dinosaurs: A Novel by Lydia Millet: ‘You can do your best all your life’  

Cover image for Dinosaurs by Lydia MilletI spotted Lydia Millet’s Dinosaurs on NetGalley, pleased to be reminded of how much I’d enjoyed Oh Pure and Radiant Heart many moons ago. This subtle, understated novel follows Gil who’s decided to put his New York past behind him and move to Arizona, captivated by footage of the Arizonan landscape, and having nothing better to do, decides to walk there. 

Lane’s memory took up the space where new affection might live. Lost and aimless, like a faithful dog.  

Confused by the disappearance of its master. 

After five months of walking across his country, Gil arrives at his castle-like new home and gazes across at the elegant, empty modernist glass house next door. Shortly after, a family moves in, walking around their beautiful glowing home as if on stage. Ardis pops over with a freshly baked peach pie reminding Gil of a 1950s housewife which she clearly isn’t. Gil finds himself drawn into this handsome family, asked by Ardis if he might play basketball with ten-year-old Tom who’s missing his friends. Gil’s a little awkward, unused to being around children, but is soon at ease. He’s a man with few friends, an orphan raised by his grandmother who found himself suddenly wealthy at eighteen when the family trust paid out but he’s always worked, albeit as a volunteer. Over the course of the next two years, Gil becomes part of a community, making friends in Arizona, and losing one in New York, hesitantly edging towards a new relationship, Ardis and Ted’s family a beacon of happiness shining brightly across the way. Nothing is perfect, however, not least the hunter who is shooting the beautiful birds flitting through his garden Gil has come to love. 

Real people didn’t move much, though. They stayed on trajectories. Believed in ghosts and God, both quite invisible. 

But danger, danger and the need for movement, the need for action, those they didn’t see. Refused to believe in.  

A multitude of themes underpins Millet’s novel – state of the nation, violence against women, family, friendship and coupledom, nature and our destructive interference with it not least climate change – to name but a few, all explored with a light touch. We see events from Gil’s perspective: compassionate, at first socially awkward, embarrassed by his wealth, gentle, well-meaning and idealistic, he’s a man who listens, learns and grows. It’s an unusual portrait of masculinity; I kept expecting him to meet with a terrible end or for some ghastly revelation to be made about his nature but Millet’s too subtle for that. Gil’s newfound appreciation of nature gives rise to some beautiful descriptions of the Arizonan landscape and the birds that populate it. I thoroughly enjoyed this thoughtful, contemplative novel whose gentle humour reminded me a little of Katherine Heiny’s Early Morning Riser. It made me want to track down more of Millet’s backlist.

W. W. Norton and Company: London 9781324021469 240 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)

17 thoughts on “Dinosaurs: A Novel by Lydia Millet: ‘You can do your best all your life’  ”

    1. Bit of an obscure one for them, I suspect. I liked its positive masculinity thread even if I was expecting him to be shot at any minute or, alternatively, pull out a gun himself!

  1. It does sound very much like something sinister is about to happen – like everything in his new life so far is going too well. Ha!
    I love that he walks to his new home. Is his walking experience part of the narrative?

    1. Oddly, not! He makes the decision and then he’s there, having acquainted himself with the state of his nation. It’s so rare that men are portrayed quite so positively that I’d convinced myself he was either going to do something monstrous or meet a miserable end.

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