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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  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2011, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Cindy Anderson

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Print Excerpt


ff ff fsssssff ff f

“—sea nymphs hourly ring his knell. Hark: now I hear them. Ding- dong bell.”

ff ff fsssssff ff f

“—relax. We’ll help you hold things together.”

I lean forward and tell him to turn off the radio in a tone meant to be peremptory, but the intended note of command in my voice has too much squeak and quiver. Nonetheless, after looking at me for a moment in his rearview mirror, he reluctantly shuts off the radio, leaving us in soundproof silence.

Then I begin.

THREE

This is costing me a lot, isn’t it. By the time we make it into downtown Xeroville I will have spent two days’ pay in cab fare. So I guess I’d better start talking, and get my money’s worth.

My name is Harold Winslow. I’m in the sentiment-development division of the Xeroville Greeting-card Works. Right now we’re working on Christmas cards. That’s right—even though it’s the middle of July, we’re working on the Christmas cards for next season. Time is always out of joint in the greeting-card works. Outside the works heat- shimmers rise from concrete; inside the works it’s ice-cold, that special kind of ozone-flavored cold that machines make, and we’ve got Styrofoam snow strewn across the floors and red and green tinsel hanging from the walls. For inspiration. You’d be surprised: it’s hard to summon the Christmas spirit in the middle of July. We hired a group of dwarves to dress up in elf outfits and run up and down the hallways, carrying lovingly handcrafted wooden toys and singing high-pitched, cloying songs of holiday cheer.

I’ve become disillusioned with my job: that’s part of my problem, I think. I am a failed writer. I went to a university, hoping to become a successful writer, but I failed. Miranda, back then, tried to tell me that terrible things were in store for me, for all of us. But even though she was wise beyond her years, she was still young, and so was I, and all of our words were drowned out by the noise of our beating hearts, screaming at us that we were, aft er all, creatures of flesh and blood. So instead of taking our only chance of escape, we went back to her magic island when we had no business there. In a life full of failures, that was yet another.

I’m a failed writer with no voice of my own. What I do at the greeting- card works is this: I try to guess what kind of voice a voiceless person would choose if he could have any voice he wanted, and then I try to speak with that voice. I speak the words of love and affection that people would speak for themselves if they could. If they weren’t paralyzed. If their lips didn’t lock every time they even thought of expressing their own love for themselves. You have seen them, drifting up and down drugstore aisles like ghosts, their hands shaking, their teeth grinding, their jaws locked as they try to find the words that say the thing they mean to say. They are blind and dumb. I don’t know what they’d do if they were confronted with greeting cards that were blank on the inside. Paralyzed. Blind and dumb.

My special talent is greeting cards that are designed to be given by boys between the ages of nine and sixteen, when they are too old for naïve sentiments that tumble clumsily off the tongue, and too young for cookie-cutter blank verses about love that perseveres through ravaging Time. My masterpiece is a greeting card I wrote for the Father’s Day season three years ago, a large two-dollar affair that opened out into three panels, illuminated on both sides in brilliant pastels. As far as greeting cards go, it was an epic. The text was in iambic pentameter. The son, the implied speaker and the person presenting the card, details a fantasy in which his father is a monster, and the son is a smaller version of his father, a monster as well. And the father and son do monstrous things together, like throwing around automobiles and knocking down buildings and breathing fire and biting the heads off innocent bystanders. Then on the climactic final panel, the son thanks his father for being a “monster of a dad!” and for making him a “monster of a son!” It was a big seller. It went into several printings.

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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