Philip K. Dick finished Confessions of a Crap Artist in 1959, at the end of a period in which he had refrained almost completely from writing science fiction. It was the only one of his “mainstream” novels to be published during his lifetime (though well after he wrote it) and is the only one readily available today.
Confessions of a Crap Artist by Philip K. Dick. Entwhistle Books (1975), 171 pp.
Jack, a thirtyish collector of crap -- worthless stuff, strange ideas -- has trouble connecting to the real world. After he quits his job in his home town south of San Francisco, he moves to exurban Marin County to live with Fay, his cold and controlling sister; Charley, her angry businessman husband; and their two kids. Jack becomes the homemaker, contentedly fixing meals, taking care of the children, and cleaning the elaborate 1950s ranch house. Meanwhile, Jan casts her eye in the direction of a young married man who shares some of her intellectual interests, and Charley grows frustrated that his domestic life has gotten out of control.
This is another of Dick’s forays into everyday life in the 1950s. It is not a pretty picture. Jack, a borderline schizophrenic, is the best adjusted character in the book. He likes living on the middle-class mini-ranch, enjoys his domestic duties, and copes albeit warily with his sister. Jan is a head-case of another type. She experiences no feelings for other people, appreciating them only as possesions. This includes Charley, who finds his own emotions getting increasingly out of control. Dick tells the story primarily using two first-person narrators, Jack and Fay. They are unself-conscious, often amusingly so, about revealing their ideas and goals. Charley's view of events comes through a third person. If Dick were making a point here, it might be something like this: The only way people could avoid going crazy in pseudo-rural California was to be crazy before they got there. Despite its dismal subject, this is a compelling read.