Collection: Fight No More by Lydia Millet

Regular visitors to this site may be familiar with my fondness for the writing of Lydia Millet, a Pulitzer-nominated author of literary fiction who also frequently edges into genre territory. It took me a while to get around to her most recent release, Fight No More (2018), primarily because I mistook it for a collection, which for me is a different kind of choice to make when reviewing the to-read shelf. But Fight No More, while definitely a collection, is also a clever mosaic, reading with the interconnected rhythms of a multi-protagonist novel. The individual pieces stand alone well enough, but they also feed off each other compellingly, making a varied and coherent tapestry.

The first story, “Libertines,” sets the stage by introducing Nina, a middle-aged Southern California realtor. Somewhat sex-obsessed, Nina’s latest showing involves squiring a trio of men through an opulent mansion. It’s a mundane day at the office for her, which then goes dramatically sideways when one of the men attempts suicide—and she establishes a nascent romantic connection with his rescuer. Nina becomes the connective tissue in the diverse array of stories that follow, her work helping people buy and sell homes across Los Angeles ultimately tying together the lives of assorted, peripherally connected people, an unwitting social network. In “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” we meet sullen, rebellious teenager Jeremy, whose father abandoned his mother, causing a need to downsize to a smaller home; in “Bird-Head Monster” we meet Paul, a selfish Republican asshole, through the eyes of his strung-along girlfriend; in “The Fall of Berlin,” Paul’s aging mother Aleska is forced to sell her home to move into Paul’s guesthouse; and so on and so forth.

The stories are quiet, thoughtful, and insightful, meditations on the trials and tribulations of modern life, which touch on Millet’s favorite recurring themes: environmentalism, community, the ethics of capitalism, the fraught logistics of individual happiness. Not often, but every once in a while the world-shaking stakes of genre fiction can get tiresome and overwhelming—something particularly true in my joint wheelhouses of spy fiction and science fiction. Literary stories written as well as Millet’s are a nice antidote for that syndrome, close-in examinations of personal struggle that mix relatable emotion with contemporary issues, all rendered with empathy, biting social critique, and acerbic humor. But Millet almost always keeps one foot in the genre camp, tying together the personal with a bigger-picture perspective. Even at her most “mainstream,” she speaks to the genre enthusiast in me, frequently feeling spec-fic adjacent. Sometimes the connection is explicit, as in “The Men” (in which one of Nina’s clients believes her house is infested by dwarven handymen) or “I Know You In This Dark” (wherein Nina is tasked with selling the home of a self-professed vampire). But even at her most grounded, Millet’s work feels science fictional, even if it’s just conveyed through her characters’ thoughts about the future, whether it’s their own or the world’s. In Millet’s work, there’s an inherent concern for how both individuals and society impact the future, and I find her subtle approach to this theme uniquely compelling.

Single-author collections can slip under the radar. Fight No More shouldn’t. I really enjoyed getting to know these characters and watching them spin in and out of each other’s orbits. It’s a blazing fast read with heart, humor, and, like all Millet’s work, interesting things to say.

Scroll to Top