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 by Jonathan Lethem X
Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2013, 384 pages
    Jun 2014, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Print Excerpt

Then, as if to prove that the cosmos wanted no such union, the pregnancy lapsed, in the privacy of night leaking out of Rose in gobs and streams, so discreetly she was left to explain it to Albert herself, just weeks after the wedding. That, only after a doctor explained it to her, saying it hadn't been much of a pregnancy to begin with, if five months along it could dissolve more or less painlessly in the night. Something hadn't taken, only tried to. It was a mercy, a mitzvah even. Not to bear any longer the thing incompletely forming within her. Now, girl, eat red meat and salad, avoid exotic fruits such as bananas, and try again.

Try again? She bit her tongue. They hadn't been trying. He'd meant to pull out. Now, married, they'd try.

By now they'd settled, out of Manhattan, but not out of the heart of the world's happy controversies: no. Instead they'd made their home in the official Socialist Utopian Village of the outer boroughs, Sunnyside Gardens. Designed, as they discovered, and ironically, on a German basis, Lewis Mumford borrowing from the Berlin architects' vision of a garden city, a humane environment grounded in deep theory, houses bounded around courtyard gardens, neighbors venting their lives one to another across a shared commons. Yet with such struggles as overtook Rose and Albert in that utopian zone, truthfully, they might wish to be a little better partitioned from their neighbors' overhearing. That first accord between them, had it only been a fever of hormones? Their marriage, only a panic of pregnancy, in the wake of brain-befogging stints of sheer fucking?

A baby would make it right.

They tried and tried.

Synthesis of this sort was denied them.

Four years of trying before his seed would take in her again and make Miriam. The girl arrived at the doorstep of the war, ready shortly to be assigned her own booklet of ration stamps. Born into a new world unresembling that nascent utopia in which Rose and Albert had sought to start a family, against the skepticism of two armies made of different species of Jewish uncles, aunts, and cousins. Would it have grounded the union to make issue earlier? Was Albert unmoored for want of a child at home?

No. Rose could revere, in her morbid way, the Kafkaesque penalty of her first trial because she knew the party was only putting something out of its misery after all. The marriage had failed. Wrecked on reefs of personality, the incongruity and nonsupport of the two alienated families, and on Albert's vanity, his uselessness to the task of anything but distant and unreachable revolutions. He was either above or beneath mere work: Given even a sheaf of pamphlets to distribute, you'd find them stuffed into his suit pockets, Albert's campaign to distribute them among the working classes having ended in some dialectical flirtation over drinks with a fellow pamphleteer he'd just happened to run into. As for the demands of parenting, once the girl came along, forget it. Rose had been a single mother before she was made a single mother.

The fact of which Rose was proudest was that one she'd never utter aloud, not to Sol Eaglin, not to her beautiful policeman, not even to Miriam, the daughter who was repository for Rose's whole self, her insurance against being forgotten. Yet it was her signature triumph: the containment of murder. Rose Zimmer emptied and rinsed the Lübeck ashtray three times during the course of her first trial. Ferrying the granite weapon back and forth through the crowded room, the smoky air, Rose didn't swing it to shatter Albert's cranium. Nor Alma's, which would have surely collapsed as easily as an eggshell, tight-combed and hairpinned white wisps drowning in blood as she fell to the carpet. Nor did Rose crown any of the high party operatives. No, though they made it so easy, leaning in lusciously to plop sugar into their teacups, bending to stuff lit matches into mossy pipe bowls, no, though it would have been so beautiful to watch them riot in fear of her and her granite boxing glove. Nor did she go in and murder the newly fatherless girl, whose small body Rose would still have been able to hoist through the window to hurl down onto the pavement of Broadway, drawing cops to whom Rose would then immediately denounce the cell of Reds she'd uncovered (You gentlemen revolutionaries are sidelong-eyeing this peasant-stock housewife for a reaction? Well, there's your reaction!), no, no, no, on the night Rose Zimmer had discovered she possessed not only the capacity but the desire for murder, she'd let the most delectable array of possible victims go completely unmurdered. She'd killed not even one of them. She'd carried the ashtray out filthy and carried it back in as spotless as the best-paid Lübeck housekeeper could ever have made it.

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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