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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  • First Published:
    Sep 2013, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2014, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Print Excerpt


"Honest Abe, then?" he said.

"Put it down."

He produced an injured look. "We're aware you're a civil rights enthusiast, Mrs. Zimmer."

It was typical of such an evening that every remark found itself getting to the point, whether it wished to or not. Here was the crime the party had invented for Rose, then: excess zeal in the cause of Negro equality. In the thirties she'd been what would later be called, by Red-baiters, a premature anti-Fascist. Now? A too-sensuous egalitarian.

"I had a few slaves," said Rose, "but I freed them." At best, a poke at Sol Eaglin. Certainly lost on the young man.

Eaglin stepped in, as he'd been destined to all along, to "handle" her. "Where's Miriam tonight?" he asked, acting as though his knowledge of her daughter's name mitigated his incongruous presence in Rose's life: neither friend nor foe, despite that they'd a hundred times groped at each other's forms in the darkness. Eaglin was a mere bland operative, an automaton of party policy. Tonight was definite proof, like she'd needed proof. You could harbor a man in your bed or your body, play on his nervous system like Paderewski at the keyboard, and not shift his brain one inch out of the concrete of dogma.

Or, for that matter, the concrete of police work.

Nor, incidentally, had she dislodged either man from his wife.

Rose shrugged in reply. "At the age she's reached I shouldn't ever know her location, apparently." Miriam, the prodigy, was fifteen. Having skipped one grade already she was a high-school sophomore, and a virtual runaway. Miriam lived in other families' homes and in the dining hall at Queens College, flirting with Jewish and non-Jewish intellectual phonies, boys who'd a year or two before been scratching their nuts and slapping one another with rolled-up comic books on spinning stools in soda fountains or on the elevated trains, the kind of boys who fell silent, who even quaked, when they shared sidewalks with Rose Zimmer.

"Playing footsie with Cousin Lenny?"

"Sol, the one thing I can say with assurance is she's anywhere but with Cousin Lenny." It was Rose's second cousin Lenin Angrush who'd in fact gifted Rose with the bogus giant penny. A numismatist, he called himself. Lenny, getting the time of day from fifteen-year-old Miriam? He could dream.

"Let's not waste any more time," suggested the young man who'd been at her Lincoln stuff. Rose shouldn't underestimate the brutal authority of youth: He had some. Eaglin wasn't the sole power in the room just for being the sole power Rose chose to acknowledge. This young fellow was eager to distinguish himself, likely in the context of some jousting with others present, for status as Eaglin's protégé. That itself, only a prelude to stabbing Eaglin in the back. Surely that was it.

Poor Sol, really. Still neck-deep in the paranoid muck.

Rose poured them coffee, this brave cohort who'd come to declare she'd picked the wrong Negro. They were talking; she really ought to listen to the verdict. Short of severing the affiliation, Rose would no longer be welcome to the privilege of acting as recording secretary at meetings with union officials, including the union at her own workplace, Real's Radish & Pickle. Her last duty in the party, stripped. There at Real's, Rose enjoyed the honor of serving in horrified silence as her ham-fisted comrades bullied workers whose daily facts, whose solidarities, forged side-by-side plunging elbow-deep in barrels of chill salt brine, put to shame the abstractions of the posturing organizers, those arrayed in their dapper suspenders and unwrinkled plaid, not knowing enough to be unashamed of these Halloween-hayride proletarian costumes.

These men in her apartment, they could needless to say go to hell.

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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