Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Magnificence.
Completing her cycle of novels, Milletís final effort in the trilogy (preceded by How the Dead Dream and Ghost Lights) begins with an ending. Susan Lindley arrives at LAX with her wheelchair-bound daughter, Casey, expecting a reunion with her husband, Hal, home from Central America with Susanís errant boss, T. Instead, mother and daughter are greeted by a lone figure. T. relates Halís tragic death by violence before their intended flight home.
Since Halís absence, Susan has indulged in frequent ruminations about the nature of men and women and the compromises of marriage, carelessly dabbling in casual infidelity, her future with the solid Hal a given. Holding herself responsible for Halís journey to recover the wandering T., Susan assumes the weight of blame after his death, thinks of herself as ďa murderer, a black widow.Ē Facing an unknowable future without Hal and with no plan to survive the days ahead, Susan worries about her relationship with Casey, haunted by memories and guilt.
Unexpectedly learning that she is the heir to a vast estate owned by an eccentric uncle, upon investigation Susan is overwhelmed by the size of the mansion and the lushly planted acres surrounding it. The estateís cavernous interior is inhabited by room after room of stuffed hunting trophies, a veritable museum of the furry, the feathered and the scaled, complete with identification of species and date of acquisition. Eventually the very presence of her eerie housemates with their blank eyes in the ornate rooms becomes a comfort as Susan wanders the vast galleries, a collection of treasures near extinction in a world voracious for land, resources and plunder.
Susan becomes the caretaker of the inanimate creatures. A woman formerly only concerned with her own satisfaction, the preservation of these animals grows into her legacy to a shrinking planet. In so embracing her inheritance, she opens herself to the unexpected, exhibiting a generosity of spirit long untapped as near strangers impose on her hospitality. Love with a married man looms, though Hal resides comfortably near her heart, and even her relationship with Casey evolves gracefully: ďIn this house there was unrequited love and love for the dead.Ē
Millet describes Susanís ďlove among the ruinsĒ in luminous prose, where a restless heart finds a surfeit of joy among the treasures she has inherited, an extended family of needy souls in search of companionship, an unanticipated bounty. Rigorously contemplative and ecologically aware, for Milletís protagonist life and death take on new dimensions, unhampered by a flagrantly wasteful past and foolish expectations.