Rescue Me

Desertion is a leitmotif in the book: Barely visible to the world, the narrator is inessential personnel hovering in the margins of everyone else's busy lives. She watches human activities with puzzlement and joy, as if observing aliens with charming habits. Since there are so few opportunities for pleasure, though, she often takes comfort in her own mistreatment. For instance, the children in one foster home like to kick, pinch, and squash her in what they call "a meat sandwich," but after a while, "they would forget the sandwich and nestle, and there was the warmth of them and the salty skin and the milky breath. I have always recalled these touches since they were among the first I knew," she recalls fondly. "As for the bruises . . . I think they did not know their own strength."

Millet specializes in deluded characters: Her last novel, George Bush, Dark Prince of Love, was an absurd romp featuring an ex-con with an unhealthy fixation on Bush Senior. My Happy Life is a more subtle and successful attempt to get inside an addled brain. Just as the narrator's optimism threatens to become cloying, Millet allows darker hints of her consciousness to seep through. In its quirky, ethereal way, My Happy Life suggests that isolation can feed the imagination and nudges at the notion of how little a human being needs to thrive.

Helen Dunmore turns survival into a beat-the-clock thriller.
photo: Jerry Bauer
Helen Dunmore turns survival into a beat-the-clock thriller.


The Siege
By Helen Dunmore
Grove, 294 pp., $24
Buy this book

My Happy Life
By Lydia Millet
Henry Holt, 150 pp., $20
Buy this book

Also in This Week’s Books Section:

Miles Marshall Lewis on The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller

Hilary Russ on Another World Is Possible: Conversations in a Time of Terror

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