Deborah
Deborah asked:

Can anyone explain Lerner's repeated use of the word "dissect," when used in sentences such as this one, describing the narrator's reaction upon seeing someone snort a huge amount of cocaine: "I stared at him wide-eyed, waiting for him to die or dissect, while everybody else at the table laughed"? None of the traditional definitions referring to things being separated or analyzed seems to fit.

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Cheryl Cocaine use and Marfan's syndrome are each associated with an increased risk of 'dissection' of the aorta, in which a small tear occurs into the wall of the largest artery in the body. The fast-moving blood goes into the tear, and extends into the layers of the wall of the aorta, splitting them apart -- 'dissecting' them apart. May be rapidly fatal.
Fergus Early on in the novel Lerner's narrator is diagnosed with 'Marfan' which the doctor explains increases the chances of 'dissection', in this case meaning the fatal tearing of his heart. So I'd assume that whenever the narrator says the word later, he's referring to someone's heart tearing. I've no idea of the medical veracity of this usage but this seems to be what he's meaning.
Elioditus I too was bothered by his use of 'dissect'. I figure it like this:

A major theme through the book deals with how our lives' everyday meanings can rapidly be upended when circumstances change. For example, in dealing with The Museum for Totaled Art, the author becomes fascinated by the art that is announced 'totaled' despite the fact that he can detect little to no discernible damage to the pieces. In this instance, what previously was considered valuable enough to insure suddenly became valueless.

Or in another example, a once-in-a-century storm is coming, and everyone, including the author, is frantically stockpiling supplies. The author comes across a package of instant coffee, and because his circumstances have shifted, because he is viewing his world through the possibility of eminent disaster, he sees the package differently: He imagines all the necessary divisions of labor (from South America, across the ocean, to upstate New York) that had to take place in order to make the instant coffee possible: The package of instant coffee suddenly appears to be a precarious object dependent upon the cohesion of fantastically large operating network. The fact that the pack exists at all is something of a miracle.

That's what I think Lerner means when he uses 'dissect': when the ascribed meanings in our lives suddenly collapse and reveal the world and its many relationships anew.
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