Philip K. Dick wrote most of Humpty Dumpty in Oakland in 1955 under the title "A Time for George Stavros." In 1960 he made revisions to brighten the tone, but potential publishers still found it too downbeat. Victor Gollancz finally published an English-language edition in London in 1986. It is now out of print, but apparently new copies of the 2001 French edition are still available. Amazingly, the book has yet to be published in the United States.
Humpty Dumpty in Oakland by Philip K. Dick. Gollancz (1986), 199 pp.
Jim Fergesson, pushing sixty and no longer fit for physical labor, decides to sell his auto repair shop. The sale will set Fergesson up for retirement. But it will also leave the ceaselessly self-doubting Al Miller, who leases half the parcel for a used car lot, nowhere to operate his faltering business. Fergesson and Miller separately encounter Chris Harmon, a successful but mysterious record pirate. Harmon suggests that Fergesson put his money in new repair shop in a developing part of Marin County. He then offers Miller a well-paying job in the record business. The rest of the story tells how the two men respond to Harmon's proposals.
Like the main characters in Dick's other "mainstream" novels, Fergesson and Miller face issues of identity and purpose. Fergesson doubts that he has amounted to anything. Miller is ashamed that he’s a petty chiseler. Both are perplexed, yet neither is without hope. Adding to their problems -- as might be expected in a Dick novel -- are their less than happy marriages. Dick’s writing is clean and spare, mixing psychological insight, vivid descriptions, and droll satire. The most memorable single scene comes when Fergesson gets lost among earth-moving equipment in Marin. Readers looking for an introduction to Dick's realistic novels might well start here -- except, of course, that copies of the book are nearly inaccessible.