Monday, August 23, 2010

The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer

So, there's a guy named Harold Winslow on this zeppelin, the Chrysalis. He's stuck there with his insane girlfriend and her father. Stuck on a zeppelin with his insane girlfriend and her dead father, who he killed and put in a freezer. Now, he is writing a memoir to tell whoever comes across the pages about the events of his life, everything leading up to what sounds like the weirdest joke ever.

When he was 10 years old, Harold visited Nickel Empire, an amusement park where everything costs a single nickel. He wanted to ride the Tornado, a giant roller coaster. Instead, he paid a nickel to climb to the top of a giant tower and was propositioned by two men. Thankfully, this proposition was just to put his future in the hands of Prospero Taligent. Taligent is the richest, most powerful man in the world, creator of the mechanical man. He is looking for children to attend the 10th birthday party of his adopted daugther Miranda. Harold will have to give away the remainder of his nickels and his hopes of riding the Tornado, but in return he will no longer have the burden of deciding his own fate.

At the party, Taligent tells all fifty children in attendance that he will grant them the one thing that they desire most in the world. They will receive this at any point in their lives. Harold gets asked back to the Taligent Tower to play with Miranda. They act out scenarios in her playroom, then one day they kiss. Taligent throws Harold out of the Tower. He has some serious issues about his daughter growing up, to an incredibly scary degree. After deciding that Miranda is impure, Taligent looks at his now adult daughter sleeping and says, "I'm going to do terrible things to you." (Shiver) Surprise, surprise, he is the one who drives Miranda insane.

Harold grows up and becomes a greeting card writer. He also becomes hard and mechanical, like the robots Taligent creates. This is indeed one of the themes of the book. There is an "age of miracles" when you are young. You can believe in things, you are the Virgin. Growing up means understanding more of the world, but understanding takes away the miracles. You become the Dynamo, the mechanical man. It's seen over and over. Flesh is weak, tin is strong. If your daughter begs for a flesh and blood unicorn for her birthday, you have the surgeons drill a hole in a horse's head right in front of her. She's got to learn sometime! Flesh will die but metal is eternal.

There is a point in the book where Harold attends a cocktail party and meets an author named Dexter Palmer. That kind of blew my mind, the idea of an author giving himself a cameo in his own book. The story jumps around a lot, showing Harold at different ages, interludes aboard the Chrysalis, journal entries from Prospero Taligent and someone called Caliban Taligent. It's all incredibly weird, but weird isn't really a bad thing.

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