Friday, December 23, 2011

Mid-Life Crisis

Mid-life crisis – it's a common theme in literature. Think of characters as diverse as Clarissa Dalloway, Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe, Emma Bovary, maybe even Captain Ahab. Hal Lindley, in Lydia Millet's Ghost Lights, is suffering his own version of this ailment. He's a decent man with a decent job with IRS, but he feels anxious and disengaged. He suspects his wife is having an affair with a younger man, and he is unable to move beyond his mourning for the life his daughter had before an accident left her paraplegic.

When his wife's boss goes missing in Belize, Hal impulsively (and drunkenly) volunteers to track him down. He doesn't even like the guy, but it's a chance to escape and sort out his life, and also look like a hero to his family. “Heart of Darkness” lite? Not exactly. But Hal does encounter far more of an adventure than he anticipated, as unexpected events keep overtaking him. He is forced to re-examine his assumptions about himself, and each new event seems to carom him in a different direction.

Hal's wry sense of humor makes for many amusing and touching moments, but be prepared for the fact that not every mid-life crisis leads to satisfaction and enlightenment on the other side.

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