Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Fiction: The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

Dexter Palmer’s debut novel is, in all ways, a beautiful book. The cover evokes a steampunk version of Metropolis. The pages are beautifully designed and deckled-edged.

Palmer’s writing, too, is beautiful. From the first, The Dream of Perpetual Motion (St. Martin’s Press) is lyrical, even haunting. It may be Palmer’s first novel but you know right away that you’re in the hands of a master craftsman. An idea that is not injured by the knowledge that Palmer holds a Ph.D. in English literature from Princeton. From The Dream of Perpetual Motion:
In the morning, when the sun is rising, the building that houses the Xeroville Greeting-card Works is eclipsed by the long, yawning shadow of the Taligent Tower. The Tower is the uncontested dominant piece of architecture in the city, the defining element of its skyline, and it is owned by Prospero Taligent, reclusive genius, the richest person in the known world, the inventor of the mechanical man.
Our hero is Harold Winslow, a greeting card writer who has for a while suspected that the stories he once dreamed of telling are not within him. Or not anymore. As the story begins, we learn that Harold is imprisoned in a zeppelin, alone but for the crazed shell of the only woman he ever loved and the cryogenically frozen remains of her father, Prospero Taligent.

The Dream of Perpetual Motion is the story of these three, but it is also the story of the world as it has come to be in the book: an early 20th century with a definite steampunk twist: it is not a world that any of us would recognize.

I really wanted to love this book and was sure, going in, that I would. I didn’t. And why not? I’m still not sure. As I said, the writing itself is fantastic: taken line-by-line, this is a flawless work. But, somehow, the story never gelled for me. Palmer’s distant, polished voice seems to keep the reader at a distance, as well. At least, it did with me.

I’m willing to entertain the idea that the fault lies with me and that your experience of the novel will be entirely different. I hope so because, on paper, this is one terrific book. I found it bloodless. It’s possible that you will not.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Jacques F. said...

I am 100% with you. From the cover to the description of the story on the inside flaps, I thought, "wow, this will be good!" I didn't finish it. The main character never really convinced me that I should care for him, and the coldness of it all made me feel like I was down here, looking at him up there in his zeppelin, with no possibility of getting more involved than that.
Disappointing.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 7:44:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Barton said...

The first clue to to novel's bloodlessness could be found in the words "Ph.D. in English literature from Princeton"... :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 8:11:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Walker said...

Loved the book. In my opinion, Palmer's voice and style conveyed the emotional numbness that Harold Winslow lives with. As a stoic/pre-raphaelite soul living in the age of endless commercials and information overload, I connected with the dispassionate style. For me, "The Dream of Perpetual Motion" was a book that shifted the world.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 9:35:00 AM PDT  

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