Excerpt from The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Dream of Perpetual Motion

A Novel

By Dexter Palmer

The Dream of Perpetual Motion
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2010,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2011,
    368 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Cindy Anderson

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of this moon, which has served humanity for thousands of years as our principal icon of love and madness? When they touch their hands to the ground and perform their relentless analyses and find no measurable miracles, but a dead gray world of rocks and dust? When they discover that it was the strength of millions of boyhood daydreams that kept the moon aloft, and that without them that murdered world will fall, spiraling slowly down and crashing into the open sea?

She begs me to speak, but I won’t. We live in our own little universe, she and I, and she is mad, and I am sane. This is the one thing that I know for sure. Prospero Taligent drove her mad: thirty years of being his daughter broke her mind, but I won’t let the same thing happen to me. She is mad, and I am sane. To speak to her, even the first word, would be an acknowledgment and an acceptance of her madness, and from there I would have no choice but to follow her down the hole until both of us would be here alone in this ship among the clouds, endlessly circling the earth, our needs carefully ministered to by mechanical men, howling ourselves hoarse and counting off the ticks of the clock before the moon falls out of the sky.

I am going to try to tell a story now, and though I’ve made a life out of writing words, this is the first time I have told a story. There are no new stories in the world anymore, and no more storytellers. There is nothing left but the fragments of phrases that signaled their telling: once upon a time; why; and then; the end. But these phrases have lost their meanings through endless repetition, like everything else in this modern, mechanical age. And this machine age has no room for stories. These days we seek our pleasures out in single moments cast in amber, as if we have no desire to connect the future to the past. Stories? We have no time for them; we have no patience.

Sometimes I have a little trouble holding things together. It seems strange and inaccurate, when writing of what oneself once was, to speak of oneself as “I,” especially when I find it difficult to own up to some of the actions performed by the people I once was: the ten-year-old boy who played innocent games on Miranda’s magic island; the twenty-year-old who returned to that island when he had no business there; the thirty-year old who committed the crime for which I have been imprisoned aboard this ship, with the madwoman. In this last year I’ve spent time with all of my past incarnations (oh, yes, they have their voices, too, they have just as much to say to me as Miranda), and we have decided that the only way to make sense of our existences is to set the stories of our lives down on paper, to try to make one tale that shows how the twentieth century turned Harold Winslow into Harold Winslow into Harold Winslow into me.

Any story told in this machine age must be a story of fragments, for fragments are all the world has left: interrupted threads of talk at crowded cocktail parties; snatches of poems heard as a radio dial spins through its arc; incomplete commandments reclaimed from shattered stones.

Every story needs a voice to tell it though, or it goes unheard. So I have to try. I still have enough faith left in language to believe that if I place enough words next to each other on the page, they will start to speak with sounds of their own.

ONE
nightfall in the greeting-card works

ONE

Hello? Hello.

Hello. My name is Harold Winslow. Yes. I need help.

Yes, I’ve used your services before.

Don’t tell me everything’s going to be fine. It’s not. You can guess I know better than that.

I need help. This is one of my bad mornings. Some of the dreams I have are worse than others. This one isn’t the worst, but it’s bad enough for me to need your services.

Excerpted from The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer. Copyright © 2010 by Dexter Palmer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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