Puttering About in a Small LandPuttering About in a Small Land by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

this is the second of Philip K. Dick’s non-sf fiction that i’ve read, and i’m telling you, there’s something rather addictive about them.

this book is about two couples in LA in the late 40s/early 50s, the postwar era. they meet, have adventures, get into trouble.

the plot of this book is not the draw. it’s the fine characterizations Dick works, getting us so deeply into the characters’ heads that we find ourselves puttering about in the smallest land of all: the space inside the skull.

and damn! he’s good at it. he’s even amazingly good at getting into women’s heads. (a lot of writers have a hard time writing the opposite sex.) we get to learn about each character’s world view, their deceptions petty and otherwise, their self-deceptions… and how each paints the world to fit.

granted, these heads do not come complete with contemporary moral values, ethics, and so on; the book was published in ’85 after Dick’s death, and i’ve no idea when he actually wrote it. but there is a lot about it that has that cigarette-haze, blue-lit whiff of the interregnum between the end of the war and the explosions of the 60s–back when love wasn’t free yet, but one could feel a ripeness beginning to split at the seams.

i read The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike a while ago, and the two books share a lot of characteristics: a tight, tight focus on just a few characters; a time that feels somehow encased in glass; a plot in which by contemporary standards, not much happens, but which nevertheless keeps you compulsively turning pages.

i don’t know why Dick is not better known for his literary fiction. he was certainly as capable a craftsman as many others of his day. in truth i like his non-sf better than his sf, which often seems cold and distant to me, emotionless. give it a try!