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Humpty Dumpty In Oakland by Philip K. Dick

02/03/2009. Contributed by Sue Davies

Buy Humpty Dumpty In Oakland in the USA - or Buy Humpty Dumpty In Oakland in the UK

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pub: TOR. 252 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.95 (US), $16.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1691-2.

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Phil Dick is known as a writer who produced some of the most disturbing and paranoid fiction of the last century. It is appropriate then that this book one of his plain fiction rather than Science Fiction should echo these themes. It is inevitable to that with his name on the cover we read the book through distorted vision.

Most of his straight fiction was published after his death, a consolation prize for someone who wanted to reach a wider audience. Without the bug-eyed monster or shining space ships, this is a vision of the world acutely observed and just as disturbing.

There is a certain ugliness to all of Dick's characters. A tarnish set on it by the world. I could not empathise with a single character in this novel and even so, it was worth reading. The female characters that are integral but not given a full life of their own are shrill. It seems that the author is not a big fan of the human race. There is an underlying or rather overwhelming sense of futility in all the actions that these characters take.

In short, Jim Fergessen decides to retire and sell his successful car workshop. He is feeling his age and deeply scared about dying under a car in the pit of the garage. He rents out a piece of land to Al Miller. He seems to be a work-shy used-car salesman who sells junk cars that have been patched up. Al takes it personally when Jim sells but when Jim says he is investing the money in what could be a worthless scheme he does attempt to stop him.

Nobody is fully aware of anybody else in this twisted world. Miller and his wife don't understand each other. Fergessen and his wife miss by a mile. In addition, it seems that everybody misinterprets the motives of local businessman Harman, who offers to invest Fergessen's money,

The novel offers an insight into the workings of post-war America where social relations are governed by the colour of your skin but also by the colour of your money. It feels as worthy as anything written by the more famous existentialist novelists as it attempts to dig from under the skin the itchiness of motivation for seemingly absurd actions.

Despite it's bleak premise, this is a curiously compelling book that made me think about the nature of motivation and how simple actions can lead to devastating events. Sometimes you can feel like a pinball, being controlled by a flick of someone else's wrist. Showing how one person attempts to take control even with its consequences might even lead us to positive action with the cry of, 'What's the worst that can happen?'

Sue Davies

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