wow, a difficult book to assess.
you wouldn’t think there’d be that much difference between how people thought in the 1950s and now. i mean, it’s not like it was the Middle Ages or something.
but it might as well have been, in so many respects.
since you can read the summary elsewhere, i won’t bore you with it. instead, i’ll tell you what’s difficult (and also well-done) about this novel.
first off, as a feminist, the misogyny is like a bullhorn in the face. you can’t escape it–even the female characters hate themselves in some particularly corrosive ways. the main female character, fay, is a puzzle for a contemporary reader. the other characters clearly want you to see her as merely a manipulative, possibly psychopathic (their diagnosis, not mine) narcissist. (all reported in the most 1950s freudian-analyst terms, which, while sometimes delightfully retro, do make one wish for a long, hot shower after.)
for me this is the central problem of this book: how to see fay? if i accept the 1950s limitations of what women were supposed to be, then perhaps yes, she is manipulative and uncaring. but how else can the powerless be, except manipulative? and who in her life (besides her children) is there really to care for, that cares for her?
so fay is a problem.
her husband, charley, is an interesting sort–he holds all the cards, and yet has convinced himself that he’s been victimized by his wife. his thought processes are quite icky but in their way, almost convincing. one could almost agree with him at some points. now that’s good writing, scary good writing.
most of the book concerns the dynamic between this husband and wife. it’s a narrow focus on two not incredibly appealing people, which can make it rather hard to read sometimes. but Dick does such a phenomenal job of anatomizing the two, of splitting them into facets and then turning each facet in the light, that it is a weirdly compelling read.
which doesn’t make it an enjoyable read by any means. i am impressed by Dick’s talent and his micro-analytical thoroughness, but i wish he had turned his talents on a more illuminating pair.