Thursday, 20 September 2007

Review: "Voices from the Street" by Philip K. Dick

I've been a fan of Philip K. Dick's writing for quite a while, having purchased and hungrily read every novel on which he was the single author, most of his short stories, and a fair bit of his nonfiction writing. If you aren't familiar, it's very hard to pick even a small handful for the novice, but I would recommend in particular:
  • "Now Wait for Last Year" (my favorite)
  • "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said"
  • "The Man in the High Tower"
  • "A Scanner Darkly"
To return to the point: as a long-time fan of PKD, it was a pleasure to discover (while following up on a friend's recommendation of the PKD biography "I am Alive and You Are Dead", review to come shortly) that not one, but two of the author's mainstream novels are now being printed widely for the first time, and over twenty years after the author's death. "Voices from the Street" is in fact the last of his unpublished novels to go to press, adding to my excitement in devouring the work.

Like his other mainstream novels, "Voices" is a work steeped in the culture of 1950s California. The salesman and their world, the attitudes of the characters toward race issues, even the details regarding music sales are familiar from PKD's mainstream works like "Mary and the Giant" and (my favorite) "In Mliton Lumky Territory". As always in both his mainstream and Science Fiction novels, the relationships between women and men are complex and often strained, as in "Mary", "Milton Lumky", and "Confessions of a Crap Artist".

"Voices" is an earlier effort along the same rough lines as his later mainstream work, and it shows a little. I was reminded of my experience in reading Henry Miller's "Moloch" a few years ago, which was a similar mining of an author's early work, with similar rough edges. A friend of mine who is also reading the book pointed out that the characters' voices are a bit too obviously mouthpieces for the author and not characters in their own right. I would reluctantly agree, although I tend to enjoy Dick's descriptive detail and narrative rather and not be bothered by his characterizations.

I won't go into the details of the story much further, as I'm increasingly wary of spoiling anything for future readers. I will say, however, that like so many of PKD's works, whether or not the end resolution is positive depends largely on the reader's perspective. For those of you that make it through the book, I offer this: the main character reminds me of Grady at the end of Michael Chabon's excellent "Wonder Boys". For anyone who's read both, I hope the comparison makes sense, if not, that's what the comments section of this blog is for.

Although I am far from an unbiased consumer of PKD's work, I enjoyed "Voices" very much, even though it was emotionally exhausting to read in comparison with his Science Fiction novels. If you have read and enjoyed "Milton Lumky" or other mainstream PKD novels, I highly recommend it. If you're unsure, you could do a lot worse than picking up one of the many new editions of his work that are now being reprinted.

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