Excerpt from Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Dissident Gardens

A Novel

By Jonathan Lethem

Dissident Gardens
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Sep 2013,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2014,
    384 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Print Excerpt

I haven't written any report." He spoke tightly, as though she were the one who'd crossed a line, referring too intimately to his subjugation to the unseen cell leader. For Sol Eaglin, that, rather than bodies meeting in the night, constituted intimacy.

"I'm done inside, Sol," said Rose, meaning the kitchen and elsewhere: inside all the implied philosophies and conspiracies that clung in the air around them, had been belched out when they came through the door like heat and fume when you opened a coal stove. "Take them away."

"You should permit us to follow procedure."

"Procedure for what? Looking at you, old man, I can see what the mirror won't tell me. I'm an old woman. I don't have time for it."

"You're a fine woman in her prime, Rose." Eaglin's tone wasn't persuasive. Who knew whom he didn't want to be heard by, in the nearby bushes?

"I'm a degenerate, to hear of it."

"Come now, Rose."

"No, it's a degenerate world now, so why wouldn't we be part of it, you and I and those idealists in my kitchen?" She stepped into his embrace, loathing them both and wanting him to feel her loathing, as well as to prove how easily still she could squirm her bosom into the palms of his hands. Eaglin gave her boobies a good feel before shoving both hands into his jacket pockets. The act might have fit his definition of procedure.

Yet she'd outwitted herself, wanted more than she knew. She took Sol by the wrists, this time forcibly inserted his chill palms within her blouse, let him rediscover how she spilled at the whole periphery of her brassiere. Rose's versatile cynicism was dangerously near to spilling, too, becoming irrecoverable, mercury in a shattered vial. Sol Eaglin knew her better than any man alive. Better than her black lieutenant, though she might die rather than let Sol know it. She and Sol had for nearly a decade suffered identical contortions: the party line, and each other. If she'd only managed to wrest him from the obedient disobedience of his marriage, to a meek woman suffering nobly his claim to free love, Rose might have imprisoned Sol happily. They could have installed themselves as a Great Red Couple, lording it right here in the Gardens—but how these fantasies reeked of conformism! How bourgeois, finally, the aspiration to succeed socially within the CP!

Be grateful, then, for Sol's limpet wife and for the instincts of the body that had led her to seek elsewhere. Rose was beyond Sol's destruction, being larger than Sol knew, much as Communism was larger than the party and therefore beyond the party's immolations, its self-stabbings. By reaching for her impossible policeman, her Eisenhower-loving giant, Rose had practiced a radicalism, a freer love than Sol Eaglin could know. The critique was implicit in the gesture. Yet she wasn't tempted to translate it all into Marxism for him, not at this late date. Rose might be slightly weary, at last, of Communism. Yet Communism—the maintenance, against all depredation, of the first and overwhelming insights that had struck the world in two and made it whole again, and in so doing had revealed Rose's calling and purpose—was the sole accomplishment of her life, short of balancing a pickle factory's books. It was also, and not incidentally, the sole prospect for the human species.

"I'm cold," she said. "Let's go inside."

"You're lying." Now Sol was turned on, getting a little humpy, she knew the signs. "You're not cold, you're hot as a baked potato."

"I won't argue, the world is founded on such contradictions. It's possible I'm all at once cold and hot and lying. But not lying as much as you, Sol."

Excerpted from Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem. Copyright © 2013 by Jonathan Lethem. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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