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Love in Infant Monkeys

Love in Infant Monkeys: Stories - Lydia Millet Lydia Millet has received a lot of praise for her work and is seen by many as one of the best writer's in the U.S. Stepping into her world for the first time with her collection of stories, Love in Infant Monkeys, shows a writer willing to take risks in her material. The collection revolves around animals, be they pets, circus elephants, or even the lions from the movie Born Free. Millet further layers the collection with real life celebrities or historical figures so in the course of the book we see David Hasselhoff, hear the musings of Madonna, learn of the religious leanings of Thomas Edison, and witness a confession from former President Jimmy Carter — and there are more. Many of the stories are based on true stories of animals with famous people, although Millett takes artistic license and uses them as springboards.The result is a strong, if uneven, collection with the famous names at times proving to be a distraction and at other times an annoyance. The book opens with Madonna pondering a range of ideas as she looks over a dying pheasant she has shot in "Sexing the Pheasant." The animal here serves as a catalyst for her thoughts, but the focus is on Madonna and her musings on celebrity life, her husband's friends, and her attempts to conquer English phrases. Madonna is such an easy target to make fun of that she is hardly worth the effort; this story could be written by some talented undergrads with a sense of humor.Such entries are frustrating when you see Millet's skills in a story such as "Sir Henry," a moving tale of a dog walker who is forced beyond his dog world when he suddenly recognizes humanity which rises to the level of, well, dogs. Sir Henry, a dachshund, belongs to a famous performer, but this means nothing to the dogwalker. He likes the dog because of the dog itself, not any association. He walks the dog with "Blackie," who belongs to a dying violinist who asks the walker to take the dog after he dies, which by the violinist's own admission will be soon. The request goes against the walker's own protocol, but he is moved enough to consider it and begins to see the violinist and his caretaker in a new light. We do not hear the final decision, but it is the questioning which is enlightening. Toward the end of the story Millet reveals that Sir Henry's absent owner is David Hasselhoff, who bestows some glancing attention on the dog when he accidentally meets up with the walker in the park. The walker hears the excited reactions of those around him, but is clearly not moved by the connection. The question is, why throw this diversion in what is an otherwise strong story. Millet shifts the reader's attention in a way the dog walker himself escapes, and the rationale is not clear.Millet does better with less "celebrity" people such as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Although not as well known today, Tesla was a influential inventor who counts the radio among his creations. Millet focuses on his death as debt laden scientist living out his life in the Hotel New Yorker. Tesla develops a moving relationship with one of the maids, and the story is told from the viewpoint of another maid who knew both of them. In the story Tesla is devoted to pigeons who share his apartment, causing the maids to spend extra time with the man. Millet's building of the relationship is as light and touching as the relationship itself. That Tesla was famous does not impact the story significantly. Instead of celebrity watching we simply see humans at their best as they try to help one another. Millet has a gift for finding emphasizing the human emotion without cheapening it, in part because the animals serve as a foil to the human characters (and at times this is reversed).Humor is also an important part of the collection, and is best seen in "Jimmy Carter's Rabbit," which takes on Carter's famous oar defense when a rabbit swam toward his boat at one point during his presidency. As a former President, Carter pays a surprise visit on a childhood friend who is now a psychologist. As children they were involved in an incident which caused the boy and his family to leave the town, and Carter has come to offer a belated apology. The humor comes as the psychologist tries to figure out Carter's real reason for visiting in what is a clearly an attempt not to focus on the incident Carter wants to discuss. A similar sense of avoiding reality shows up in "The Lady and the Dragon" where a billionaire Indonesian businessman purchases a Komodo dragon who had bitten Sharon Stone's husband at a zoo. The businessman hopes to use the animal to meet Stone, with whom he is obsessed, and when one of his employees cannot contact the real one he instead hires a sexually willing substitute. The title story uses the real life experiments of Harold Harlow on monkeys as its basis. While Harlow is going against his colleagues in the 1950s and calling for mothers to be more loving, he gets his theories by isolating and thus torturing monkeys. While he claims no love for the monkeys, he pushes away his nightmares about the animals by drinking too much. With his own wife dying at home he spends all his time on his work, and the story ends with the nightmare of a mother monkey screaming for her baby. "He knew the feeling of loss that would last till she died."Overall we can see Millet using the animals as a way for us to see ourselves differently. She shows a respect for animals most writers do not have by showing they are worthy of our attention as they are. In addition, as Millet any pet owner knows, animals often show us more about ourselves than we are comfortable knowing.