Lydia Millet’s magnificent new novel, Dinosaurs, highlights our shortcomings in terms of how we treat each other and our environment, and subtly seeks to draw some lessons from the natural world ... Millet rel[ies] on spare prose that is dense with meaning if the reader wants to think deeper, but otherwise feels simply like edifying naturalist interludes. Her observations about human behavior are astute ... Millet writes with a dexterous rhythm and she has a natural ear for lived-in dialogue ... Time after time, Dinosaurs develops in unexpected directions, avoiding several potentially cliched turns and any sort of moralizing messaging. The novel buzzes with an uneasy undercurrent of violence.
... the notable thing about Dinosaurs is that no deviancy bubbles beneath its surface ... The wholesomeness of it all, combined with Ms. Millet’s effortlessly readable prose, sometimes slips into blandness. I think that the chorus of voices in the author’s superb linked-story collection Fight No More (2018) makes for a more engaging way to dramatize quiet acts of compassion. But there is something new and unusual about Dinosaurs, even so. The novel is conscious of intractable global crises yet it focuses on local problems that can be confronted and overcome in honorable ways. It wants to pioneer a trail out of generalized despair and into active goodness.
In her 15 books, Millet has perfected charged, science-based prose that takes a surgeon’s loupe to how people interact with nature ... Just as Gil is trying to rewrite his destiny, Dinosaurs asks whether we can redirect the climate catastrophe’s plot toward a different ending. In many ways, Millet’s latest novel rings a more hopeful note than her previous work. Let’s take that as a good sign.
Millet never lets surrealism darken into delirium, and her misanthropy feels circumstantial, not cosmic ... In Dinosaurs...Millet transposes her signal motifs into a gentler key. The book’s large-scale catastrophe is only as obvious as our own—which is to say, ecological ruin lurks in the background ... Dinosaurs is sharp and implacably funny; it evades the sanctimony you’d expect. Millet writes in the simple, enigmatic language of books for young people ... Yet, even half mesmerized, I wrestled with the work’s aura of equanimity—until the thought occurred that this strange, quiet text might be an allegory about how to greet the end with grace ... Millet’s distrust of narrative may arise from her intimate understanding of its pleasures. Her novel skims the personal, at times dipping into various facets of the human self and its struggles ... Searching for the bottom of ambiguous loss, Millet also offers ambiguous hope ... This enlightened, self-negating awareness lends Dinosaurs its sense of peace; yet I wondered whether Millet had finally ascended to a level of consciousness beyond her readers’ reach. I longed for the adolescent urgency of A Children’s Bible, the blood and nerve of individuals with fears and desires.
[It] all unfolds in the most natural way, with current moments tracing back to Gil's past, and the sense of his character accumulating from quiet moments with Tom, Tom's parents and Sarah, a new, slowly emerging love interest. And through it all, there is a concern about what's happening in the world, depredations environmental, political and personal ... Involving and moving ... Millet, whose talent is at once outsize and subtle, makes it seem perfectly natural.
Millet keeps thwarting the reader’s expectations of drama, and offers instead a subdued portrait of a wounded middle-aged man’s journey toward wholeness ... Millet may have thought that, in a time of widespread hatred, bigotry and violence, this is the kind of fiction we need: a comforting story about decency and simple human goodness. But she doesn’t avoid the well-known problem of how to make goodness compelling. Of course, the mind itself can be a sphere of spectacular drama, but Gil is no thinker, and in place of depth he has the kind of cluelessness that virtuous fictional characters are often given ... Whatever happiness he finds comes easily enough. Perhaps Millet intended a lesson here: It doesn’t take much to do the right thing, to leave the world a better place than you found it ... But every human soul is a battlefield, and I wish I could have seen more wrestling between Gil’s good and bad angels.
The story is so gentle that it’s a safe choice for any reader with a heightened startle reflex ... Dinosaurs...is a story about an extraordinarily wealthy White man struggling to make his way in the modern world. You may be under the impression that there are more urgent stories being told these days. This novel will confirm that suspicion. I kept expecting to feel the deadly edge of Millet’s satirical wit, but Gil is allowed to luxuriate in his gold-plated self-pity largely unscathed ... Dinosaurs is not without some emotional tension, but that tension is tempered, almost subterranean ... In...passages, Millet confirms that she’s a master of poignant moments. These scenes are charming, often witty, sometimes moving. And I have no doubt that fabulously wealthy folks in the prime of their lives with nothing to do endure the dark of the soul along with the rest of us — just on better sheets. But do you want to read about how woeful that is?
Gil’s belated coming-of-age is sometimes bumbling or ridiculous—the man is, after all, out of touch. Indeed, a risk Millet runs—or courts—in Dinosaurs is that some readers may be put off by the idea of taking interest in Gil’s rich-person problems. To make matters trickier, Gil is hardly interested in them himself. Millet’s challenge, then, is to keep readers from following Gil’s example and dismissing his story as one that doesn’t need to be told ... But anybody who’s read Millet understands that she thrives artistically on risk. My guess is that she requires it ... more than a simple story of a late bloomer finding out just how much he’s been missing. Millet uses Gil’s growth to explore deep questions of human responsibility—to our communities, our natural environments, and the softer, needier parts of ourselves. But she keeps her philosophical investigation subtle and loose, much like Dinosaurs’s narrative, which she seems to construct while trailing behind Gil, observing him as he stumbles along ... Millet gives Gil quite a lot of privacy. She resists explaining why he’s initially so prone to passivity and shame, and offers a similar discretion to her minor characters, too. This approach, frustrating at first, becomes inviting. It also mimics real life: because we have limited access to Millet’s characters, we get to know them more gradually, through what they do and say ... Millet matches the delicacy with which she handles her characters’ inner lives with a noticeably light style. She writes swift, spiky prose that balances descriptive beauty with irresistible momentum—sometimes brutally so ... Millet is a master of the single-line paragraph ... Yet for all the speed of her sentences, Millet’s distant, elegant prose imbues her fiction with a sense of melancholy that keeps it from feeling too urgent or blowing by too quickly. In Dinosaurs, as in its predecessors, Millet consistently evokes the mismatch between the speed of life and the relative slowness of human emotion ... But she offsets the diffuse sorrow that hovers in Dinosaurs with a finely tuned sense of the absurd. For all the book’s restraint, she lets it be what my grandfather would call a 'shaggy-dog story': not just a yarn, but a bit of a joke ... In studying Gil as he seeks some weights, Millet invites readers to reframe our own lives a little, reassess what constitutes luck. Nobody wants to be weighed down too much, but it beats the alternative.
The way these birds journey together and build upon one another’s human counterparts is where the novel’s authenticity and beauty lie ... Gil’s insightful rumination bring the writing its life and the characters their development ... While Millet shines light on the timely theme of taking responsibility for the world we’ve inherited is vital, these larger questions the novel hints at — the infinite, love’s intangibility, the stains of evil — leave readers hanging as she wrangles them into simplistic, flat turns of events. The anticlimactic slice-of-life frame of Gil’s character never quite substantiates the sweeping, all-encompassing conjecture at which he gradually arrives. Sparse writing creates mystery but also hinders the possible intricacies of the outcome. For all the novel’s transcendence through the past’s burdens and the goodness of small acts, its convictions don’t go far enough.
Millet explores the tension that arises from all of these entanglements with expert pacing and prose that possesses the virtue of never calling attention to itself ... Well-known for her preoccupation with environmental issues, Millet’s descriptions of the Arizona desert and its abundant wildlife provide a vivid backdrop for the novel ... a short, spare but eloquent novel whose characters slowly insinuate themselves into the mind, and then the heart. It might be something of an overstatement to suggest that a novel has the power to make its reader a better person, but in the case of this book it’s only a modest one.
Slim, quietly powerful ... It would be an exaggeration to say that Dinosaurs has a plot. It has a mood, a sensibility, and an elaborate series of loose avian allegories. Many of the chapters are named after birds, and bird behaviour reflects on the behaviour of the humans in our purview and vice versa ... Millet deploys a radically stripped-back prose style ... What does Dinosaurs add up to? It could be mistaken for a character study. Gil is attractive, perceptive, passive but not apathetic. He wants to do good, to be good ... Gil compels attention because he has the freedom to do as he likes – and chooses to observe and to care.
Nothing could be more readable and frictionless than this book. The dialogue flows; the characters rise naturally off the page; the scenes rise and fall in perfect cadences. It’s particularly masterful how Millet develops Gil’s fascination with birds, weaving closely observed descriptions of them into a text that is otherwise very blank. It is as though within the prose itself, we feel them threatened by a hostile human environment ... The trouble here is that, from page one, Gil is never anything but good. He has no dark places, no dark thoughts, no struggles with internal demons ... The conflicts in the book mostly involve other good people being unfairly treated, and Gil waltzing in to solve the problem by giving kindly advice ... Even Gil’s money, which is framed as a kind of original sin, is carefully sanitised by the author ... Millet has written a book about the attempt to live a moral life that dodges every moral issue ... This dodging is not always successful. Readers may notice that while environmental destruction is an underlying theme, the book never addresses its possible relationship to the life choices of people who buy castle-sized houses in desert areas like Arizona ... I’m sure there will be readers for whom this book is balm to a weary soul. It can be comforting, certainly, to read about the unfailing goodness of people who never want for funds. As mentioned above, Millet is exceptionally skilled at what she does. Even though this book is mostly very quotidian, it is never boring, and she can make you interested in what happens even to her least convincing characters. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is feeling cynical, but if you were craving the literary equivalent of a Ted Lasso Christmas episode, this might be exactly what you need.
A couple of later scenes go on too long, but even if, like Millet’s other works, this novel is like a delicious meal that doesn’t quite fill you up, it’s still a feast worth tucking into. Millet makes critical points about American aggression, destructive attitudes toward wildlife and the American concept of freedom ... Dinosaurs is a bracing if subtle reminder that, in the absence of changes to old-fashioned ways, some people are just one good volcanic eruption from going the way of the dinosaur.
An intriguing portrait of a lonesome man trying to do good in a grim world ... Anguish and tenderness mesh with piquant humor as Millet, empathic and imaginative, reveals her humble hero’s Batman-like backstory. Birds, bats, humans, and many other creatures may be facing extinction, but the desert is an ongoing marvel and love still thrives.
Millet slips among various modes and genres, blends the commonplace and the conceptual with ease, and there’s an undeniable disposition to her novels that links them in spirit if not always in substance ... The author’s best trick is leveraging expectations in order to build tension, only to reveal that the narrative’s primary currency isn’t its littered symbolism but its profound sense of human intimacy. It’s about those who enter and exit our orbits, and Millet elegantly shapes the swirling chaos of existence into fragile, memorable human forms ... More tender and less mercurial than anything Lydia Millet has written before, this is an elegant, subtle novel of profound emotional heft and deceptively simple prose of immense power, ending on a grace note that marks a high point in the author’s career.
... a basically boring albeit earnest book, weighed down by a pretentiously terse style ... In what’s probably the most daring act he’s ever undertaken, Gil decides to walk the entire 2,400 miles from New York City to Phoenix. However, it’s sadly typical of Dinosaurs that this unusual journey, which could have been rich in anecdotes, sensory impressions, and self-revelations, is disposed of in less than three pages, with a barebones itinerary ... His reactions to most things, whether it’s a beer with the next-door dad or evidence that a bigger kid is physically bullying the 10-year-old, are uniformly flat ... There’s a smattering of stunning moments ... The book desperately wants to convey its message of human connectedness with all the species that share this planet. Gil walks 2,400 miles to appreciate and then deliver this message. But he needs to prove more clearly that he cares—about anything.
How we can nurture ourselves, the people dear to us, and the world around us are key issues in this gentle, meditative novel, told from Gil’s point of view to slowly build a marvelously full, if inadvertent, self-portrait ... Philosophical questions are raised with a very light touch by Millet, who enfolds thematic and psychological depths in elegant, deceptively simply prose. Her lovely, moving conclusion affirms that 'separateness had always been the illusion…the world was inside you.' Another life-affirming work from a writer who always carves her own literary path.
A brilliant story of survival...subtler and more effective than the NBA-shortlisted A Children’s Bible ... Millet bakes a sense of foreboding into the atmosphere, making the scenes especially fraught. Her character work—notably of the men—is precise and stunning, as she locates their foibles and virtues, and injects a surprisingly moving dose of optimism into Gil and the married couple as they try to endure. This wonderful and dynamic writer is at the top of her game.