After enjoying Lydia Millet’s Love in Infant Monkeys, I wanted to move on immediately to some of her other work but victimized myself with the “aboutness fallacy”—it didn’t seem like any of her novels would interest me. For example, her third, My Happy Life, is a “poetic, language-oriented work about a lonely misfit trapped in an abandoned hospital, who writes the poignant story of her life on the walls,” according to Wikipedia. I decided that the “picaresque tragicomedy about an alcoholic pornographer with messianic delusions, based partly on Millet’s stint as a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications,” sounded better (though still marginal), and picked up Everyone’s Pretty.
But as marginal as that sounds, I shouldn’t have forgotten how much I really do like the picaresque. Dean Decetes, the alcoholic pornographer, starts off the novel “hiding out in the restroom after a minor altercation wtih another bar patron,” admiring the “homespun candor” of the graffiti on the toilet stall. He is unwashed and uninhibited, enabled by his sexually frustrated, extremely Catholic sister and on a mission to play himself in the movie version of his life story. He and his sister Bucella interact over the span of a few days with a web of characters ranging from beyond sketchy to slightly respectable, tied together by happenstance.
They sway on the edge of likeability. Dean has his charm but he is a fall-down drunk. Phillip goes from harmless but bizarre obsessive compulsive to scary abusive husband. Bucella advances from clueless to outright delusional. They all recede from reality and protect themselves psychologically. In that all are redeemed, in their own way and sufficient to their own purposes and capacities. Others are like Alice, who, slipshod and unreliable as she seems, keeps her feet on the ground and comes out the other end looking a bit like the victim of a natural disaster—that would be life, I suppose.
Millet’s wackiness palette is vivid and fun, and her writing draws no complaints. Ultimately Everyone’s Pretty isn’t too different from its brethren in the realm of finding-meaning-in-this-crazy-modern-world, we-all-have-dead-end-jobs contemporary literature. But Decetes & Co. have above-average appeal as adventurers and their exploits are a perfect importation of the picaresque into millennial Los Angeles. Still, I wasn’t quite as taken with them as with the less roguish but more off-kilter short stories.