February 22, 2008

Humpty Dumpty in Oakland

Humpty Dumpty in Oakland
Philip K. Dick, 1960

This was an intriguing read, partly because I really had no idea what to expect. I didn't even look at the jacket copy, just saw the book at the library, picked it up, and started in reading.

I've read a few of Dick's science-fiction novels, and enjoyed them a lot. If you can imagine the author's preoccupations in the more famous sci-fi stuff, but pushed into the framework of an "American realist" novel (like maybe something by Steinbeck?), you'd get a sort of an idea of what's happening. All of his usual manias are there: sexual politics, class- and race-consciousness, anxiety, altered mental states, and most especially that vast paranoia that seems to fold in upon itself.

There are plenty of great scenes in the book, and the characters are more complex than I recall reading in other stuff by Dick. There's also a focus on what it was like to live in West Oakland in the 1950s, slice-of-life stuff that was very immersive and interesting. I have to say that it doesn't all hang together as a novel too well, though. It's essentially a handful of small stories, stitched together in a rather perfunctory way, and the seams really show. There's a bit too much repetition of themes for my taste as well - as if the same idea came up in two short stories, and when the author tried to fuse them into a novel, he couldn't figure out how to alter the storytelling to keep the same phrases and images from cropping up. Or maybe it was done on purpose and it just didn't work for me.

Very interesting, in any case, and I suppose if you are a Philip K. Dick completist or an Oakland historian, it's a must-read.

No comments: