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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“What? Oh, hey, wait a second,” said Marlon, backing off from her as she rose from the chair and started to approach him, grinning and seductively fingering the Christmas tinsel around her neck (and I could look into Ophelia’s twinkling eyes and see that Marlon had paid good money for snake oil). “I’m just joshing—you know you’re too tall for me. I mean, I’m too short for you, is what I meant to say—”

“I’m going to eat you alive,” Ophelia purred, sauntering toward Marlon as she looked down at him, backing him into a corner, spreading out her arms to catch him, should he run. “Mmmm, yes. Yes indeedy.” She licked her lips then, and I couldn’t figure out why Marlon couldn’t see that she was about to burst out laughing. “You look scrumptious,” she said. “Oh, I believe I can barely control myself. I feel so young.”

“Aw—come on,” Marlon said, his voice going high and breaking. “I was just joshing. Stop, Ophelia. Don’t touch me.” Then I couldn’t see him anymore.

SIX

After two more hours of staring at a blank page, I threw down my pen, said a cursory good- bye to my coworkers, punched the clock, and hit the street in the middle of the afternoon. I hadn’t written a thing, but if I wasn’t inspired, sitting at a desk was a waste of my time and the company’s money. There’s another thing at which I was a failure: being able to write without being “inspired” by some sort of Muse. Belief in a Muse isn’t conducive to optimal performance in a place like the greeting-card works. I figured my days there were numbered; at any rate, I thought the best thing for my mood that weekday afternoon would be a few mind-numbing hours of radio in my apartment, followed by a slowly sipped absinthe drip in a recliner, with a mask over my eyes and plugs in my ears. Then sleep.

Since I’d spent so much on cab fare that morning, I was forced to take the overground shuttle out of the heart of the city, and the only people who rode the decrepit, outmoded shuttles in the middle of a weekday afternoon were either elderly, mechanical, or crazy. So I wasn’t surprised when a man who was both elderly and crazy sat down next to me, wearing a suit whose cut was several seasons out-of-date. He leaned close to me and whispered, “You look awfully lax, my friend. And I wouldn’t be so lax with so many mechanical men wandering about. Taligent controls all of them. They’re his spies. He controls all of them. One day you’ll see.”

Four tin men were scattered through the shuttle’s passenger car, carrying courier parcels and bags of groceries, staring straight ahead, silent. “Has he given you your heart’s desire,” the man said.

At that I turned to look at him. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean,” the madman said. “I was at the party twenty years ago. So were you. I sat next to you in the banquet hall. I know your name, and I know your work, and I know you. You write greeting cards.” He pointed at himself. “My name is William. And if there is one thing in life that I looooove, it’s morphine.” The tender flesh on the inside of his arm was covered with needle tracks. He wasn’t nearly as old as I first thought. He must have been my age. “Morphine makes me feel so good. Tell me— has he given you your heart’s desire.”

“No,” I said, looking away from him. “No, he didn’t. But that was just talk. Fairy stories for children, to keep us entertained. He didn’t mean a thing he said.”

William hawked loudly and spat a clouded gob of phlegm on the car’s floor. “Oh, that’s what we all thought, once we became adults. We don’t believe in that kind of thing anymore. We think that things like unicorns and heart’s desires are clichés, in spite of what we saw with our own eyes. The ones who got it when they were children were the luckiest. They just got pets, or toys, and they were happy, because they were children and they didn’t know any better. But he waited for some of us to grow up. He’s patient, and he has the resources to bide his time. And he’s been watching all of us, just like he said he would. He has agents, throughout the city, watching. And I watch him watch. And I watch what he watches, when I can.” He grabbed my shoulder. “He ruined my life. I get morphine for free, once a day, delivered to my doorstep in a pretty little carved crystal bottle. Not enough in it to kill me; just enough to make me content. I use up what’s in the bottle by noon and then pawn the bottle in the afternoon to get the money I need for whatever drugs I can get that’ll get me to the next morning and the next bottle. It’s all I think about. Listen— he’s committed crimes. Six of the hundred boys and girls that entered the Tower twenty years ago have died because of these gifts of his. Have you received your heart’s desire. Because if you have, then it’s over. I think you’re the only one left.”

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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