cover image Omnivores


Lydia Millet. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $17.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-56512-089-1

Millet's feisty but sometimes awkward debut tells of a young girl's coming-of-age in an extremely dystopian version of modern America. The Candide-like protagonist, Estee Kraft, spends her childhood as a prisoner of a bedridden mother and psychopathic father, who forces her to assist him in a variety of murderous ""experiments,"" beginning with moths and culminating with his abduction of an elderly woman. Eventually ""rescued"" on her 18th birthday by an amoral young real estate agent, Estee moves to L.A., which she finds every bit as threatening and incomprehensible as her family home. As the couple eventually head to Florida and Estee gives birth to a monstrous baby (15 pounds at birth, he eats wasps, birds and boxes of Playtex), the story loses its force due to a lack of focus and the cartoonish behavior of its insufficiently realized characters. Though Millet's wit is occasionally biting and her prose at times quite shrewd, the novel fails to build in the manner of effective satire, becoming instead a series of set pieces and gags that only occasionally catch fire. (May)