Although he began publishing science fiction stories in 1952, Philip K. Dick intended to have a career as the author of serious "mainstream" novels. Publishers of those books, however, showed little interest in Dick's work. Sci fi publishers, on the other hand, were happy to put Dick's SF stories in magazines and paperback originals. Unfortunately, they paid so little that Dick needed to write furiously to make ends meet. Although he didn't know it for another five years, the course of his literary career was set in 1955. In that year he finished Mary and the Giant, the first of his realistic tales of ordinary people, and Solar Lottery, his first SF novel. He couldn't find a taker for Mary and the Giant, but Ace Books snapped up Solar Lottery for a paperback original.
Mary and the Giant by Philip K. Dick. Arbor House (1987), 230 pp.
In a small city south of San Francisco, Mary Anne Reynolds, a self-assured but unsophisticated young woman struggles with love and career. She is bored by her clerical job and her fiancé, who works in a gas station. He'd like to get married, but she thinks life must have more to offer. She takes up with a black singer but is soon disillusioned. Meanwhile, Joseph Schilling, a music connoisseur in his late fifties, opens a small record store in town. He's a worldly sort of guy who seems more interested in finding the right place to live than in running a successful business. He needs an assistant. When he hires Mary, both their lives change.
In his first novel submitted for publication, Dick portrays the sense of disconnection felt by people out of sympathy with the “togetherness” of the 1950s. He may be just as interested in the store-owner, who is still trying to find himself in late middle-age, as he is in his protagonist, who seeks security in relationships with men. Dick presents their problems with clarity and compassion. The portrayal is completely realistic; there’s no hint of fantasy anywhere. The book's impact is lessened only slightly in the final chapter, which Dick may have added to provide a less ambiguous ending than originally intended. All in all, the book offers a vivid slice of life from a half-century ago. Readers of serious fiction are likely to be impressed.