Lydia Millet’s collection of linked short stories, “Fight No More,” concerns real estate and its inhabitants in Los Angeles, a stark city, “ugly where money wasn’t, beautiful where it was” in “these easy-living, these complacent and iniquitous United States.”
The book opens with a somewhat jaded young real estate agent, Nina, observing how “new money tended to stash its porn in drawers” and old money doesn’t bother, as she shows a wealthy property to an eccentric man and his handlers. She knows he won’t buy it; it isn’t modern enough. “Powerful men wanted their houses shiny.”
This wry tour through LA continues with the petulant, Latin-spewing teenager Jeremy, who is holed up in his bedroom to disrupt the showing of a different listing. His dad moved out in a divorce, and his mom is headed toward bankruptcy. The two must downsize out of a house where Jeremy has his own balcony view of Capitol Records.
He bucks against the upcoming “crap condo. Beige carpets. Paper-thin walls and hollow doors. Maybe one of those pools in the middle, dirty, with a couple of spindly palm trees leaning over and rotting leaves floating.” Mother and son are emotionally ravaged. “He did the angry, she did the sad. Division of labor.”
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Each new story swerves like a breathtaking drive through LA, logical yet surprising. Jeremy’s father, in yet another story, is a man for whom “a garden, to him, was nothing but added property value.”
Despite the “manicured shrubs, tall trees, grand houses” and spectacular views that insulate the book, Millet’s stories gently and naturally find their way down to “a full-on Bryan Cranston scene” of meth labs, to “razor wire across the empty lot next door. Weeds in the sidewalk cracks.”
“Fight No More” takes the connected story model to a pure and higher form, creating a satisfying web that expands one character, one ZIP code, one housing situation at a time, to 13 tales that are each distinct and whole but form something daring in their entirety.
Millet’s honors in fiction include the PEN Award; her last collection of short stories was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Her book describes important truths about how we “curate” a house as a home. That selling a home is an impossible loss — much more than a sale.
“If only she could find someone to live in her home exactly as it was, not without its insides stripped away but with everything still in position, soft and careful, its every corner well-disposed to company. If someone could exist there, on through time, and quietly appreciate the pace the way she had — if they could know the small unsayable beauties of that cherishment.”
Holly Silva is a St. Louis editor.