‘Sweet Lamb of Heaven’ by Lydia Millet – My Shifting Assessments of Lydia Millet’s Novels


‘Sweet Lamb of Heaven’ by Lydia Millet    (2016) – 250 pages


41ozBGZ4DcLI can think of not a single writer whose novels have caused more widely varying reactions from me than Lydia Millet.  The highs have been high; the lows have been so low.

So far I have read the following four novels by Lydia Millet:  ‘Ghost Lights’, ‘Oh Pure and Radiant Heart’, ‘Magnificence’, and now ‘Sweet Lamb of Heaven’.

I found ‘Ghost Lights’ to be quite appealing.  At the time I read ‘Ghost Lights’, I wrote:

“A ‘Go To’ writer doesn’t have to go overboard to achieve his or her stories’ effects but is supremely confident, and we readers relax and let the writer’s steady hand at the wheel guide us.  Lydia Millet is comfortable enough in her own talent that she can be absurdist and realistic at the same time.”

At that time I was expecting a long and comfortable future sojourn of reading Millet’s novels.  It didn’t work out that way.

The next Millet novel I read, ‘Oh Pure and Radiant Heart’, was a definite step down for me.   This novel was a low comedy featuring the three atomic bomb scientists Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard. Though the novel is at times compelling, the main characters came across for me here as cartoonish and thus unable to sustain such a long novel.

Then I read ‘Magnificence’.  Even though ‘Magnificence’ was a sequel to the brilliant ‘Ghost Lights’, none of the mundane characters in the muddled interior monologue of this novel sustained my interest.  I selected this novel as one of my two worst reads of 2012.

So now we come to today’s Lydia Millet novel, ‘Sweet Lamb of Heaven’.   In ‘Sweet Lamb of Heaven’, two separate stories are going on.  The first is a straightforward story of a sociopath politician husband harassing and using his wife and daughter for political gain.  This portrait of a Tea Party politician from Alaska is quite accurate and effective.

“Ned’s bible-thumping friends think they’re right and all others are wrong – their powerful fear of other groups that turns to hatred and plays into the hands of the profiteers.  But the profiteers themselves, with their millions of tentacles sunk deep into every crack in the earth, don’t give a shit about being right.  They’re powerful.”

The second paranormal plot of the mother having auditory hallucinations is much more difficult for me to accept or appreciate.  The mother and daughter flee from the sociopath politician husband to a Maine hotel where all of the guests as well as the hotel manager happen to hear voices.  Somehow these people have all gathered (coincidentally?) at this one hotel.  They speak of “an ambient language that underlies life” and of “the background orchestration of the deeper language”. The hotel occupants even talk of the Hearing Voices Movement.

Unfortunately this New Age-y metaphysical stuff just flies right through my head and out the other side.

But I still believe that in time Lydia Millet will write another brilliant novel on the order of ‘Ghost Lights’.


Grade:    B-


2 responses to this post.

  1. And don’t we get cross when an author we expect to like doesn’t deliver!


    • Hi LIsa,
      I suppose that for a writer to create a novel that might not be well-received is taking a chance, and that is a good thing.


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