A Lyrical Novel Of Sad Realtors And Broken Families
There’s always something sad about moving. Lydia Millet‘s new story collection that’s actually more like a novel, Fight No More, reveals the sadder, more subtle side of real-estate transactions. Millet writes about a Los Angeles., mostly east of Fairfax, in permanent transition. Aging women lose their homes. Families, ripped apart by divorce, wander like million-dollar nomads. Everyone drives around in a fog of confusion and sells their houses, not out of desire, but out of necessity.
The book starts with what appear to be light real-estate vignettes, like the home-buying version of the HBO show High Maintenance. Weird things happen, but the tone tends toward the satirical. A Realtor named Nina, the closest thing the book has to a main character, watches the peregrinations of her rich customers with bemusement. But Nina, as it turns out, has a befuddled inner life and a broken extended family. She suffers a tragic loss and suddenly her problems don’t seem so cute anymore.
Then Fight No More takes a seriously dark turn as the characters, who at first seemed to be existing in disparate realms, begin to fuse together into a coherent story. All these real-estate transactions bond together into a sad web of betrayal and violence. The men are cads at best, predators at worst, while the female characters seem passive and confused. None of them have hope for happiness, except maybe for the teenage boy who takes center stage in the book’s final third. Even he’s a perpetually-stoned, constantly-masturbating child of divorce, but at least he gets to behave honorably and seems bound for college.
Millet’s ties bind thinly indeed. You can’t depend on family. Friendship means something, but not as much as we’d like. Everyone we love will betray us or die. Only real estate remains, and that’s as inconstant as the wind.
This is a very depressing book, but it’s beautifully crafted. Millet writes like Lorrie Moore mixed with Raymond Carver. Just don’t expect uplift or hope. When it comes to the housing market (or anything else, for that matter) no one wins.
W.W. Norton and Co.