Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Review of Dexter Palmer's The Dream of Perpetual Motion

I’ve been putting off reviewing The Dream of Perpetual Motion for a few days. Honestly, it is because I don’t know if I can do Dexter Palmer’s work of art justice. But, since the really nice marketing people over at St. Martin’s Press sent me a copy of this book, I feel that I probably should give it a whirl.

This steam-punk novel is narrated by Harold Winslow, a writer for a greeting-card company. The story alternates between the first and third person as Harold writes to his imaginary reader in his journal. He knows that no one will ever read his work because he has been imprisoned on the zeppelin Chrysalis, which is equipped with a perpetual motion machine. His only companions are a host of mechanical men, the voice of the woman he loves, Miranda Taligent, and the body of her dead father Prospero.

Harold’s journal covers more than two decades; the writing of it spans the first year he is imprisoned upon the Chrysalis. The bulk of the journal is written in third person, which is odd seeing that it is written in a journal by the main character. It will leave you a little confused at first, but I urge you to let that go. When Palmer reveals why it has been written like that, or you figure it out from the text, the story will fall into place.

The novel follows Harold’s life and the events which lead to his imprisonment on the ship. The most important of these was his meeting Prospero Taligent and his daughter Miranda. Prospero is the genius who invented most of the machines that exist in Palmer’s alternate reality.

Palmer creates a dream-like reality for his readers, full of mechanical men, “shrink cabs”, and flying cars. His captivating prose draws you in as he uses his universe to examine love’s place in our increasingly chaotic world. One of my favorite images in the novel is that of phase interference, the idea that there is so much noise in the world that every possible sound is being made. Therefore every sound wave has its opposite, one that is exactly 180 degrees out of phase, effectively canceling each other out, leaving the world in silence.

Palmer’s world will draw you in, keep you turning the page, and leaving you begging for more at the end. Harold’s heart-wrenching and disturbing tale will leave you questioning your own reality. When I finished this strange but enthralling debut novel, I found myself unable to fully grasp what I had just read. The only answer I could come up with was to read it again.

Jeff’s Debut Novel Awards*

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A twenty-two-year-old University student, Jeff is the founder and coeditor of The Debut Authors Blog. He is an aspiring author and a self-avowed bibliophile. Also, he is not above shameless self-promotion and talking in the third-person.

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