that Philip K. Dick was an odd one, wasn’t he?
Dick wrote this book in 1958, before he went off on a sci-fi binge for the rest of his life. his sheer skill at characterization, even while it must be admitted that all of his characters are at least a little skewed, is a thing of beauty.
so what is it with these bent characters? no one i’ve met in his non-sf-fiction is quite normal. Dick tours the reader (or sometimes drags the reader) through each facet of his characters’ at-least-slightly grotesque psyches. it’s not always a pretty ride–characters say shocking things to one another, display a cruelty or perversity not found in the common run of humans, do thoughtless things i cannot imagine any adult doing. but these characters are not mere monsters–one can easily discern the human behind the funhouse mirror’s distortion. and that’s what makes them so scary.
don’t go looking for a lot of plot in Dick’s non-sf-fiction; a whole lot of not very much actually happens. you won’t care about that, though, ’cause you’ll be too busy watching these people with a kind of horrified fascination.
i can’t think of many authors who were so detailed and perfect in their observations of the zeitgeist of their times. i still fail to understand why Dick was not lauded as a fiction writer before he became famous as an sf-fiction-author. perhaps because he gives us the world without blunting any of the sharp corners, without toadying to our sensibilities. his work is not for the faint of heart, but the depth of Dick’s own feeling for his poor, warped, stunted, and twisted fellow-travelers shines all the more brightly for it.