Lydia Millet’s ‘Dinosaurs’ is a weirdly wonderful story about the human experience
Lydia Millet’s newest novel, “Dinosaurs,” begins with a man walking across the country for no particular reason. We don’t know much about this man, but we eventually learn that his name is Gil, he’s independently wealthy, he’s just come off a painful breakup, and he’s walking from New York to Phoenix because, well, why not?
But that’s not the story. The story starts when Gil moves into his house and discovers that the house next door is almost all glass. A family of four moves into that residential fishbowl, and Gil can see nearly all of their comings-and-goings. He becomes something of a babysitter for 10-year-old Tom, who’s bored and friendless.
But that’s not the story, either. Gil struggles with guilt over his wealth, which exists only because his parents were killed and he inherited his grandfather’s oil money. He looks for ways to stay busy, so he volunteers at a shelter for abused women. He also becomes entranced by the birds around his home, which he views as the last remnants of the dinosaurs, and he’s troubled when he starts finding dead birds abandoned by a stealthy hunter.
And guess what? That’s not the story, either. I spent much of this novel wondering when something was going to happen. Then I realized that the aimless everydayness was the point. Gil and the characters around him experience the ups and downs of life — death, love, anger, joy, frustration, hope. Through it all, they try to be good, and do good.
Millet’s novel is thought-provoking and deceptively simple. It moves the way Gil describes his cross-country trek: “The same, the same, the same. Then, for a few miles, slightly different…” It’s about nothing and everything. And it’s weirdly wonderful.