Intellectual readers of important books with no time for condescending to sci-fi or lesser genres beware: Dexter Palmer’s debut novel is worth your attention. Palmer has a Ph.D. in English Lit from Princeton, and he puts it to good use in crafting a seriously innovative inquiry into the moral perplexities of modern technology. It is a kind of Danielewski’s House of Leaves for the ear. Told in fragments of journals entries, company memos, newspaper headlines, and a collage of other bits and pieces, this patchwork frame is voiced with gravitas and gusto by a modern narrative master. With 200 audiobooks to his credit, as well as 15 Golden Earphones Awards under his belt, William Dufris offers up a stunningly poetic and slow-burning set of characters to the arts and sciences that doom them.
Imagine the city of films like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Imagine this city presided over by an evil genius who is something like the love child of Steve Jobs and Willy Wonka. Imagine this man, Prospero Taligent, has two children: (you guessed it, Shakespeare lovers) Miranda and Caliban. Imagine how easily a man like Prospero could fall from beloved inventor to psychotic madman, from formidable mechanical magician to someone who is more like the love child of Shelley’s Ozymandias and Baum’s Wizard of Oz. Now coat the entire beast with Dufris, doing one part steampunk, one part Spock, and one part whiskey.
You still have no idea what’s in store for you! Enter Harold Winslow, our generic everyman, who is repeatedly plucked from the noise of his spineless and downtrodden humdrum existence every 10 years or so to be the “lucky” dreamer participating in the Taligent family drama. At 10 years of age, Harold loses a bag of nickels; at 20, he loses his virginity; at 30, he loses his mind. Dufris positively dances through Harold’s reconstruction of this remarkable life story, from his wrong turn at the amusement park to his captivity aboard the good ship Chrysalis. Palmer smartly weaves a tale that is no less than a treatise on the psychological expenses for any artist or scientist or ordinary person who would seek to meaningfully engage the technology of their time. Such a timely, weighty exposition demands the likes of William Dufris, who proves once again that he is up to any narrative task, no matter how insane. Megan Volpert