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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Humpty Dumpty in Oakland by Philip K. Dick

Humpty Dumpty in Oakland by Philip K. Dick. New York: Tor, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-7653-1690-5

When I think of Philip K. Dick, I think of classic golden era science fiction novels like The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and A Scanner Darkly. Certainly, I had no idea that Dick had also written several realistic novels, published posthumously, that aren't science fiction at all. This being one of them, and the first one I've read.

So, would I read another? Well, maybe, maybe not. Certainly I would never have read this book if anyone else's name had been on the cover. Not that it isn't well written, because it is. But it's not my kind of story, not really. It's got sort of a New Yorker kind of modern post-existentialist, almost surreal quality about it that doesn't really appeal to me. Although, like any well-crafted story, you soon identify with the characters, and want to know what's going to happen to them.

The two main characters both have a Willie Loman kind of quality to them. One is a successful but aging auto mechanic who has just sold his garage for a substantial sum, and is thinking about investing the money in one of those fancy new developments outside of town. Only he doesn't know that he's about to suffer a heart attack. It almost seems like a play on the New Testament parable with its punch line: “But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? (Luke 12:20).

The other character is the young fool, who operates a junky used car lot on the garage property, who is likely to be at loose ends, now that the garage has been sold, and he will probably have to move on, or find something else to do. His marriage is on the brink, he doesn't know what to do with his life, and now he gets caught up in a conspiracy theory kind of existence, thinking not only that the garage owner has betrayed him, but that he (the garage owner) is about to lose his money to some high finance swindlers.

All of this seems to be taking place in a forties or fifties-era America, when life was simpler, but the human condition no less tortured than today. The story certainly gets inside the characters' heads, but they aren't really the kind of people I want to know or care about. Marginally recommended primarily for those who just HAVE to read anything else that the great psychological master, Philip K. Dick, wrote.

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