Reviews of Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet


A Novel

by Lydia Millet

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet X
Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2022, 240 pages

    Aug 2023, 256 pages


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Book Summary

Over twelve novels and two collections Lydia Millet has emerged as a major American novelist. Hailed as "a writer without limits" (Karen Russell) and "a stone-cold genius" (Jenny Offill), Millet makes fiction that vividly evokes the ties between people and other animals and the crisis of extinction.

Dinosaurs is the story of a man named Gil who walks from New York to Arizona to recover from a failed love. After he arrives, new neighbors move into the glass-walled house next door and his life begins to mesh with theirs. In this warmly textured, drily funny, and philosophical account of Gil's unexpected devotion to the family, Millet explores the uncanny territory where the self ends and community begins―what one person can do in a world beset by emergencies. In the shadow of existential threat, where does hope live?


WHEN HE DECIDED to leave New York, he chose Arizona because of some drone footage he'd seen. It wove through the canyons of red-rock mountain foothills, over sage-green scrub and towering cacti with their arms outstretched. Then up into the higher elevations, where there were forests of ponderosa pine.

Sky islands, was what they called those desert mountains.

Gil was keenly aware, watching the video, that he himself would never glide over the rolling landscape with that hypnotic steadiness. Would never coast over trees as the metal bird did—close enough to see the clusters of green needles on the pine boughs dip and sway in the wind.

He was also aware of the artifice of the soaring choral music the footage was set to. No landscape came with that.

Still it captured him. The desert had an alien beauty that seemed as different as you could get, within the lower forty-eight. The opposite of Manhattan.

He recognized the pattern. He went to new places because they ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. Lydia Millet's Dinosaurs opens with a bird's-eye view of Arizona. What about this perspective on the world captivates Gil? How does the idea of looking at the world from above shape the course of this story? Are there other moments in the novel when something is depicted as though seen from above?
  2. "There was something about Ardis. Momentum—you couldn't refuse her. It was easier not to" (p. 13). Does Gil think of his actions in terms of ease and difficulty? Are there other characters who think in these terms? When does Gil refuse someone? What is the significance of refusal for him?
  3. Many different visions of freedom come up in Dinosaurs. We learn about Gil's youthful dream of giving away all his money, his grandmother's ...

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Millet is a beautiful writer, with a calm and expansive style. She ties up some loose ends of the story, but not all, so that the reader will find it pleasing to contemplate what may happen to these characters down the road (Susan K). Gil is a rather quiet man, but very kind and big-hearted. The story is about relationships he forms with his new neighbors, and others. I ended up falling a little bit in love with Gil by the end of the book (Jennie R). This is a simple story — dryly funny, insightful and emotionally moving. I enjoy Millet's writing and would also recommend A Children's Bible and Mermaids in Paradise (Catharine L). The story, while rather simple, is rich with material to discuss and ponder. The allegory of the castle next to the glass house, the birds of the desert evolved from dinosaurs, friendships and life and death are all woven into this lovely story (Sharon J)...continued

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Media Reviews

Tender but never sentimental, wearing its intelligence in a low-slung style, Dinosaurs is a garden of earthly delights.

Booklist (starred review)
[A]n intriguing portrait of a lonesome man trying to do good in a grim world.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[A] gentle, meditative novel...Another life-affirming work from a writer who always carves her own literary path.

Library Journal
More tender and less mercurial than anything Lydia Millet has written before, this is an elegant, subtle novel of profound emotional heft and deceptively simple prose of immense power, ending on a grace note that marks a high point in the author's career.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Millet returns with a brilliant story of survival, one subtler and more effective than the NBA-shortlisted A Children's Bible (2020)...Her character work—notably of the men—is precise and stunning, as she locates their foibles and virtues, and injects a surprisingly moving dose of optimism into Gil and the married couple as they try to endure. This wonderful and dynamic writer is at the top of her game.

New York Times
Millet keeps thwarting the reader's expectations of drama, and offers instead a subdued portrait of a wounded middle-aged man's journey toward wholeness... Millet may have thought that, in a time of widespread hatred, bigotry and violence, this is the kind of fiction we need: a comforting story about decency and simple human goodness. But she doesn't avoid the well-known problem of how to make goodness compelling.

The Washington Post
Millet has explored this species of existential despair more powerfully before. For instance, How the Dead Dream followed a rich real estate developer who suddenly began communing with animals hurtling toward extinction... Such poignancy and quirkiness have been effectively domesticated in Dinosaurs, which asks us to care but doesn't give us much reason to.

Reader Reviews

Claire M. (Wrentham, MA)

Survival Depends on This
A jewel of a book, Dinosaurs is a novel of a carefully shaped life. Gil keeps a low profile, calling little attention to himself amidst a showboat culture. He uses his powers for good, and therefore has the leisure to notice. He makes a quiet study ...   Read More
Catharine L. (Petoskey, MI)

Gil, independently wealthy at 45, has few friends and no family. He feels guilty about the money and spends his time volunteering. The book is about his developing relationship with the family next door. This is a simple story - dryly funny, ...   Read More
Lynn D. (Kingston, NY)

People in glass houses
I really enjoyed this quiet, thoughtful novel. The main character, Gil, is looking for a new start and for purpose in his life, having no need to 'make a living.' Along the way he exemplifies his humanity in his daily life with his neighbors and ...   Read More
Eileen C. (New York, NY)

In this gentle novel, Lydia Millet uses deceptively simple prose to explore the psychological intricacies of a wealthy, 45-year-old white man, uncomfortable with his privilege, who is trying to do good in the world. This seemingly quiet novel is ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Novels About Trying to Do Good

Covers of novels about trying to do good: The Wrong End of the Telescope, The Silence That Binds Us, Barn 8, Watch Us Rise In Lydia Millet's Dinosaurs, independently wealthy Gil grapples with the guilt brought on by his privilege and financial abundance. He tries to find ways to give back to those around him, through volunteer work and other means. A character's choice to actively attempt to do good deeds, or to change the world for the better, is one rich with narrative possibilities. It raises questions about what it means to be in a position to improve the lives of others, who gets to decide what is best for who else, and what type of work is most important or substantial. Below are a few other novels in which the motivations and morality of those trying to do good are explored. You can find more related novels in our Activism and Volunteering category. ...

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