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Sweet Lamb of Heaven: A Novel by Lydia…

Sweet Lamb of Heaven: A Novel

by Lydia Millet

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Anna has run away from her husband in Alaska with her young daughter Lena, and is hiding out in a spooky motel on the coast of New England. While her husband Ned had been adulterous and had ignored their child, there appears to be no reason that Anna would fear him so and have to be hiding out, instead of just filing for divorce.

When Lena was born, Anna had begun having auditory hallucinations. Most of the voices she heard were speaking in an unintelligible language, although Anna understood a word here and there. Inexplicably, the voices stopped abruptly when Lena began to talk. Now at the motel Anna learns that the other guests at the motel have also heard, or are still hearing, voices. She develops friendships with the other guests, and also enters into a relationship with the town librarian.

Ned in the meantime has decided that he wants to run for political office, and therefore needs a picture-perfect family at his side. His hunt for Anna and Lena gets serious. The character of Ned is not very well developed--he is just a cardboard evil villain. And he seems to have all types of knowledge of events to come in the future, and to have no problem keeping tabs on Anna.

This book has been called a "metaphysical thriller." I just didn't get it. There are so many unexplainable things, including the ending. And I'm not sure what the novel is intended to be. Is it Horror? Is it Scifi? Is it a Crime novel? Is it a spiritual/New Age polemic? Is it a domestic drama?

It's not that I need what I read to be totally reality-based. I read and loved Millett's Oh Pure and Radiant Heart. in which Oppenheim, Fermi et al return to life to be horrified at what has resulted from the development of nuclear technology. And, despite my reaction to Sweet Lamb of Heaven, I will still read Mermaids in Paradise. But I can't recommend this one.

1 1/2 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Jul 14, 2017 |
Millet tackles the theme of universal consciousness, or call it our connectedness to the universe, or God and takes it to an extreme. At first I thought I was reading pure literary fiction. Somewhere along the way the novel morphed into the sci-fi genre, but then it returned to literary fiction. Millet cautiously but brilliantly danced on the razor’s edge between the two genres. This novel delved far deeper into the protagonist's character, a woman fleeing her apathetic husband with her daughter in tow, than a sci-fi novel would. But there were certainly elements of the sci-fi genre present.

Here, Millet plumbs deep and describes what’s going on in the protagonist’s head in the second chapter during a get together. This felt like literary fiction to me—a woman describing a universal feeling of connectedness:

“It was one of those soft sinkholes of time when separate elements coalesce—we were a blur of sympathy, the air between us pockets of space in one great body, one saltwater being, unplumbed depths where the ancestors came from primeval well of genes…the feeling stretched like a generosity, the gift of oneness.”

The idea of universal consciousness stems from religious beliefs and from the field of psychology, such as Jung’s thesis on the collective unconsicous. It’s later in the novel that Millet expands on this universal feeling of connectedness and takes it just a nudge beyond what we know is credible. She planted some evil into it which made it a cross over novel, enough to move it into the sci-fi realm, but just barely. Millet acknowledges that by saying in Chapter 3, “Maybe this is a ghost story after all.”

Her writing is crisp and flowing. She doesn’t fill her pages with knick knacks, preferring uncluttered language, even though dealing with a complex theme. The book is a page turner. She flees Alaska with her daughter and her self-promoting Senator wannabe husband begins the chase. But more than the cat and mouse game is the beauty with which Millet handles the delicate subjects that touch us all, such as our connectedness to the universe, God, death, and the beauty of privacy of the mind. ( )
  ErinDenver | Jun 12, 2017 |
Maybe our gods are as small as we are or as large, varying with the size of our empathy. Maybe when a man's mind is small his god shrinks to fit.

Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet is an odd, difficult-to-describe book that had me from the opening pages. Part of the plot is easy to describe; after she becomes pregnant, Anna finds that her husband wants nothing to do with either of them so, when her daughter is five, they leave. Her husband Ned decides to make his career in politics and needs his family back for appearance's sake. Anna eventually finds refuge at a seaside motel in the off-season, but their safety is tenuous.

The other aspects of the plot are more difficult. Anna begins hearing a voice after her daughter is born. It goes away once her daughter can speak. What keeps her from thinking it's some sort of auditory hallucination is that her husband mentions hearing it, too. Then she finds other people who have had the same experience.

Millet isn't a lyrical author, and while she writes well, it's not her writing or her characters or her plots that make her memorable. Millet is an author of ideas. Sweet Lamb of Heaven is a religious book, but not a theological one; she's exploring the idea of God and what that means to different people and different species. And with an emphasis on ideas, the plot becomes secondary, as does the idea of finding any answers. ( )
1 vote RidgewayGirl | Feb 15, 2017 |
Sweet Lamb of Heaven is a psychological thriller that also is a cross over to science fiction. Another analysis calls it metaphysical thriller, that works, too. And another GR reviewer (Mary) says it is another case of the quality of the writing exceeds the quality of the story. That works too. I took a long time to engage with this book about a woman named Anna and her daughter Lena who are on the run, hiding from her husband and father of her daughter who is basically a man who she no longer cares for but he has never harmed or threatened her but yet she leaves and is hiding in this run downed motel on the seashore of Maine. The story is told through Anna and a lot of it is just her thoughts. We do not really no what is reality because I think Anna is set up as an unreliable narrator. When her daughter is born she hears noise and voices, this is the first chapter so really not a spoiler. They go away and she is happy not to think about it anymore. It is a relief. So, I did forget to say that the story starts in Alaska and Anna drives to Maine without being detected. I think that is pretty hard to accept as possible. Throughout the book there are some wikipedia bullets on different concepts and also verses from the Bible. Anna is not a religious person. These are just placed in various spots even though Anna really has no interest in the Christian God. The main question at this point for Anna is why have all these people showed up at the motel in the off season. This is also a political book, about running for office and putting the spin on to capture votes.

"I don't see how words can follow each other without implying emotion. Even the effort to control emotion is an act of words, while every effort to control words is an act of emotion." page 39

"I was a child myself now, as soon as you were a victim, as soon as you were deeply hurt, you were a child again. Helplessness was the one true fountain of youth." page 127

"most women probably wanted a man who acted more like a woman, I considered--more like a mother, even. You wanted to be taken care of. As long as he wasn't womanish, I thought, as long as he had central masculine characteristics such as strength and confidence, in most other respects an ideal man was more like a woman."

I really did not like Anna (the narrator). There was much I found troublesome in this book and therefore I do not think the author truely achieved what she set out to do.

However, this book would make a great discussion book and therefore would be a good bookclub book. ( )
  Kristelh | Jan 28, 2017 |
Unusual and eerie, especially in the post-election strangeness of early 2017. An odd mix of metaphysics and mystery. Many questions to ponder in this literary novel of good and evil. ( )
  KatyBee | Jan 24, 2017 |
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When I insisted on keeping the baby, Ned threw his hands in the air palms-forward.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393285545, Hardcover)

Blending domestic thriller and psychological horror, this compelling page-turner follows a mother fleeing her estranged husband.

Lydia Millet’s chilling new novel is the first-person account of a young mother, Anna, escaping her cold and unfaithful husband, a businessman who’s just launched his first campaign for political office. When Ned chases Anna and their six-year-old daughter from Alaska to Maine, the two go into hiding in a run-down motel on the coast. But the longer they stay, the less the guests in the dingy motel look like typical tourists―and the less Ned resembles a typical candidate. As his pursuit of Anna and their child moves from threatening to criminal, Ned begins to alter his wife’s world in ways she never could have imagined.

A double-edged and satisfying story with a strong female protagonist, a thrilling plot, and a creeping sense of the apocalyptic, Sweet Lamb of Heaven builds to a shattering ending with profound implications for its characters―and for all of us.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 28 Nov 2015 16:09:32 -0500)

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