It's not often that I'll review a book ten days after Entertainment Weekly, but that's what I'm doing now. The last unpublished "mainstream" novel by Philip K. Dick, completed in 1953, is finally in print, and (startlingly) a mainstream magazine has decided to pay attention to it. That the review is favorable is no surprise. Dick is a compelling writer. But here's the crucial question: Does the review signal a reevaluation (actually, an evaluation) of Dick's other realistic fiction by the literary establishment? Probably not. I just checked the latest reviews listed at Bookselling This Week and found nothing about the book.
Voices from the Street by Philip K. Dick. Tor Books (2007), 301 pp.
Stuart Hadley is a twenty-something television salesman in a small city south of San Francisco. He has an inventive mind, an adoring wife, and a child on the way. But he also faces the dreary prospect of another fifty years of meaningless middle-class life. Those around him -- his work-obsessed boss, his controlling sister and her angry husband, an intellectual Jewish couple, the wimpy manager of a flower shop -- do not provide models for change. Stuart then attends a lecture by an African American preacher, whose end-of-days pronouncements seem a possible source of enlightenment. He comes to think a face-to-face meeting with the preacher will turn his life around.
This book, like so much of Dick's "mainstream" fiction from the 1950s, focuses on people marginalized by the country's capitalist juggernaut. They each have a place in the economy, but not one that produces a sense of joy or importance. Stuart feels the discontent most strongly and is most determined to do something about it. But he can't go into action until he figures out what's wrong. The idea he latches onto -- Christian fundamentalism -- turns his attention away from the problems faced by those on the margin. Dick does not consistently advocate social change. Sometimes Stuart seems to be grappling with existential issues; at other times he seems to be suffering from maladjustment. If Dick's intention is murky, his descriptions of people and events are razor sharp. And if some of the novel's early sections seem a bit distended, the final eighty pages are nothing less than intense. Readers who appreciate realistic novels are likely to enjoy this book. (On the other hand, Phil Dick fans who believe he was somehow destined to write science fiction should prepare to be disillusioned.)