Stalking a Novelist

There is no need to look west toward Los Angeles or east toward New York for young, emerging literary talent. The only place Arizonans need look is south down the main drag, where this week Tucsonan Lydia Millet, whose latest novel, My Happy Life, will be published by Henry Holt in 2002, reads at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Millet, originally from Toronto, came to the University of Arizona to teach as a graduate assistant in 1990. "I fell in love with the Sonoran landscape -- the jagged mountains, the saguaros, the prickly pear and cholla. It's a fantastic cross between Dr. Seuss and the bottom of the ocean." Somewhere between Canada and Arizona, she wrote her first novel, Omnivores, a satirical take on modern America. And while Millet's writing possesses a sharp and biting wit, the characters in her novels possess mental and emotional landscapes as surreal and complicated as Millet's description of the Sonoran Desert.

Millet has finished her third novel, My Happy Life, which is about "unreasonable joy -- the capacity of the imagination to create communion out of loneliness and tenderness out of indifference." But right now it's her second novel that could be earning some well-deserved attention. Titled George Bush, Dark Prince of Love, this book isn't some Al Frankenesque take on a conservative politician. Rather, Millet's protagonist -- a word used lightly here -- Rosemary, is in love with George Bush, whom she succinctly refers to as G.B. (Likewise, Saddam Hussein is S.H., Dick Cheney is D.C., etc. This gives readers a chance to brush up on Inside the Beltway Who's Who.) Rosemary, a recent parolee, creates a basement shrine to G.B. and arranges her life around his CNN appearances. Lucky for her, the Persian Gulf War provides ample opportunity to listen to his nasal addresses and gaze longingly at his pointed face.

While guzzling gin and wolfing doughnuts, the wisecracking Rosemary imagines ways in which she might replace B.B. (that's our new president's mommy to you). Where did Millet come up with such a character? "Rosemary's probably who I would have been if I'd grown up without nice parents."

Millet wrote the laugh-out-loud Dark Prince in 1997, long before many of us had any inkling we'd see another Bush in the White House. With -- or without -- respect to G.W.B., Millet says, "Well, the American people didn't elect him after all. I think he's impressively unqualified."

Though G.B. and son are likely to follow Millet around, at least for the next four years, her latest novel departs from presidential politics and stalking. Millet describes it as "less an experiment in style than an experiment in feeling." Lucky for us, the Gulf War is over, and this week we have a chance to be part of Millet's experiment.