Reveling in and discussing ideas and books, together.
Lydia Millet's Love in Infant Monkeys
I (almost) never judge a book by its cover, but in a world where the future of actual physical books seems to be in question, I find it especially impressive that the title of this book is a.) in such tiny type; b.) so bizarre; and c.) printed on a small, round sticker stuck onto the picture of a half-peeled banana that dominates the book’s cover. The title of the book may be dispensable (my five-year-old could remove that sticker faster than you can say Love in Infant Monkeys), but that banana is there to beckon readers for as long as people relish a good story, or, more specifically, a good Lydia Millet story. Which, we should all (I think) hope, will be longer than the length of time we have left to enjoy eating the endangered banana itself.
This is Millet’s first short story collection, after a whopping six novels, but this is no rote joining together of disparate, previously serialized narratives under a single binding. No, this is a series of stories based on a single (strangely imaginative) premise: encounters between celebrities and animals (which themselves are based, in every case, on actual events, as gleaned from biographies, sound bites, news clips, or, in one case, the author’s husband’s firsthand brush with celebrity). There’s Madonna and her pheasant, David Hasselhoff’s dogwalker and David Hasselhoff’s dogs, Jimmy Carter and his rabbit. You have to read it to believe it.
But don’t be fooled by the presence of animals in the book’s title and its premise. This is a most unusual natural history, squeezed through the sieve of pop culture; it is Paul Shepard meets Entertainment Tonight. And it is hilarious. But also luminous, with regard to the places it teases a mind to go—trailing behind its celebrity protagonists before being thrust headlong into the contemplation of animal lives, animal suffering, animal urges, before being yanked back, just as fast, into the all-consuming, semi-precious, and inevitably mixed-up thing that us laypeople can only imagine is the celebrity mind.
This book is so many things that I could never list them all. I’ll stop trying.
Love in Infant Monkeys: Stories
by Lydia Millet
Soft Skull Press, 2009