Read Machine Dreams Online

Authors: Jayne Anne Phillips

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Sagas, #War & Military

Machine Dreams

BOOK: Machine Dreams
6.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Jayne Anne Phillips’s

“A remarkable novelist debut and an enduring literary achievement.… Its subject is history and the passage of time—as mirrored in the fortunes of the Hampson family, whose own dissolution reflects the dislocations suffered by this country in the wake of the 1960s and Vietnam.… This astonishing book establishes Jayne Anne Phillips as a novelist of the first order.”

—Michiko Kakutani,
The New York Times

“Reaches one’s deepest emotions. No number of books read or films seen can deaden one to the intimate act of art by which this wonderful young writer has penetrated the definitive experience of her generation.”

—Nadine Gordimer

“A story of conflict and love, of dreams put on perpetual hold, of losing faith with America but not with Americans … a book so deeply felt, so vividly imagined, that its characters seem not created at all but people breathing.…
Machine Dreams
shines with quiet eloquence … a rare and important work of fiction.”


Machine Dreams
would be among the year’s best-written novels was easy to predict; that it is among the wisest of a generation’s attempts to grapple with a war that maimed us all is a stunning surprise.”

The Village Voice Literary Supplement

“Astonishing and mysterious.… The fascination is in the telling.… Phillips expresses herself with clarity and grace: these lives matter.”


“Machine Dreams
seems itself a thing in flight: gliding above the American landscape, illuminating a time and our own collective dream.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“A novel so brilliant it sticks in your head long after you have read it.… The compassion is so strong here that everyone is forgiven; Jayne Anne Phillips’ genius is to bring it home with such art and beauty and attention to detail that you can’t help but say ‘Wow! This is gorgeous!’ ”

Los Angeles Times

“Lyrical … 
Machine Dreams
is a plain American beauty.”


“An intensely American, beautifully written first novel. Southern voices … so true, and their experiences so fundamental to the hurly-burly of family life, that this novel is one of the finest in contemporary fiction.”

The Wall Street Journal

“One’s first reaction to this novel is the general pleasure that fine writing affords; then, gradually, a deepening perception of the ironies of existence, communicated through the experiences of ordinary people; and finally there comes a lump in the throat and an almost palpable ache in the heart, in recognition of the vision of life that Phillips, with a fierce gentleness, lays bare.”

Publishers Weekly

Jayne Anne Phillips

Jayne Anne Phillips was born and raised in West Virginia. She is the author of two novels and two collections of stories. She is the recipient of the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Bunting Institute fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in fiction. Her work has been translated into fourteen languages.

Jayne Anne Phillips


Fast Lanes

Black Tickets


The Secret Country

How Mickey Made It




Copyright © 1984 by Jayne Anne Phillips

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by E. P. Dutton, Inc., New York, in 1984.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage Contemporaries and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Owing to limitations of space, all acknowledgments of permission to reprint previously published material will be found on
this page

The author wishes to express her thanks to The Ingram Merrill Foundation, The Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, and The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown for support during the writing of this work. She also wishes to thank Rick Ducey, U.S. Army, Retired, and Geoffrey M. Boehm, helicopter pilot, First Cav., Vietnam, for their time and consideration.

Portions of this book have appeared in
The Atlantic Monthly
and in
Grand Street. The Secret Country: Mitch
was published as a limited edition by Palaemon Press, Ltd.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Phillips, Jayne Anne, 1952-
Machine dreams / Jayne Anne Phillips.
p. cm.
1. Family—West Virginia—History—20th century—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3566.H479M3 1999
813′.54—dc21 99-18315

eISBN: 978-0-307-80884-4

Author photograph © Marion Ettlinger


for my family,
past and present


“Here is the story of flying, from the dreams of ancient Greece to the wonders of the present day, presented in brief, authoritative text and superb watercolor paintings. It is a fascinating story of people and ideas, of adventure and daring, and of flying machines.”

Flight, A Panorama of Aviation

“The Greeks believed that their heroic dead appeared before the living in the form of a horse.… The soul of the deceased was often depicted in horse-shape.”

Pegasus: The Art of the Legend

“Now he (Pegasus) flew away and left the earth, the mother of flocks, and came to the deathless gods: and he dwells in the house of Zeus and brings to wise Zeus the thunder and lightning.”

The Theogony
, vv. 284–86

“And the voice said:

Well you don’t know me,

but I know you

And I’ve got a message to give to you.

Here come the planes

So you better get ready. Ready to go. You can come

as you are, but pay as you go …

They’re American planes. Made in America.

Smoking or non-smoking?”

“O Superman”


t’s strange what you don’t forget. We had a neighbor called Mrs. Thomas. I remember reaching up a long way to pull the heavy telephone—a box phone with a speaking horn on a cord—onto the floor with me. Telephone numbers were two digits then. I called 7, 0, and said, “Tommie, I’m sick. I want you to come over.” I can still hear that child’s voice, with the feeling it’s coming from inside me, just as clearly, just as surely as you’re standing there. I was three years old. I saw my hands on the phone box, and my shoes, and the scratchy brown fabric of the dress I was wearing. I wasn’t very strong and had pneumonia twice by the time I was five. Mother had lost the child before me to diphtheria and whooping cough, and stillborn twins before him. She kept me dressed in layers of woolens all winter, leggings and undershirts. She soaked clean rags in goose grease and made me wear them around my neck. Tommie would help her and they’d melt down the grease in a big black pot, throw in the rags, and stir them with a stick while I sat waiting, bundled in
blankets. They lay the rags on the sill to cool, then wrapped me up while the fumes were still so strong our eyes teared. I stood between the two women as they worked over me, their hands big and quick, and saw nothing but their broad dark skirts.

I was so skinny as a kid, and had such big brown eyes. In the summer I was black as a darkie and Mother called me her pickaninny. She used to say I was the ugliest baby she ever saw; when I was a few days old she lay me in the middle of the high walnut bed and stood looking. The neighbor woman at her elbow said, “Just you wait. She’ll be the joy of your life.” Mother would tell that story as I was growing up—I don’t know how many times I heard it—then she’d smile at me and say, “And it’s true, you are.”

Later you look back and see one thing foretold by another. But when you’re young, those connections are secrets; everything you know is secret from yourself. I always assumed I’d have my own daughter. I picked out your name when I was twelve, and saved it. In a funny way, you were already real. I never felt that way about your brother. You were first-born; then he arrived and made a place for himself; I’d had no ideas about him. Maybe it’s that way with boy children; maybe they’re luckier.

I was like an only child, growing up alone with my mother. She’d lost those three babies before me, and my brother and sister who survived were ten and twelve years older—out of the house by the time I needed someone to talk to. They had grown up very differently—Dad had money then. Mother’s furniture was new; the house was kept up; the street, with all those big trees shading the sidewalk, was referred to as Quality Hill. Dad had the biggest lumber business in the state at one time. He was twenty-five years older than Mother and she was his second wife; at the time they married, he had grown children nearly her age. Even though he was rich, her parents hadn’t wanted her to go with him—I guess he had quite a reputation: an eccentric, a womanizer. Her family ran a small hotel in Pickens. That town is a ghost town now but the building, the old hotel, is still standing. Did I ever take you to
see it? He stayed there on business trips and Mother had seen him come and go. One night she was clerking at the check-out desk and he suddenly noticed her. She was seventeen; he must have seemed worldly and dashing. After a few months of courtship and presents—mostly by mail—they eloped and went to Niagara Falls for a wedding trip. It was her first time away from home since childhood; all her clothes were new and they stayed in a suite of grand rooms. Mother told me how she’d sit up at night, writing letters back about the steamer boat and the spray of the Falls; how the spray turned colors in the sun but was cold even in summer and smelled to her of mint or violets. She begged her mother to forgive her, but the letters weren’t answered; it was a year before they’d let her come visit.

BOOK: Machine Dreams
6.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Anticopernicus by Adam Roberts
Dream House by Marzia Bisognin
Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex
Horde (Enclave Series) by Ann Aguirre
Swept Away by Robyn Carr
Return From the Inferno by Mack Maloney
Gardens of Water by Alan Drew