I’ve been away so long, and this was the appropriate vehicle to return in; Philip K. Dick brought me back to the land of fiction. Plucked from the Chinatown library on the chance recommendation that PKD would be good for what ails me, this is a posthumously published book (written in 1960, published 1986) that threw me a lifeline back into great literature.
Even in the first pages, it dawned on me: using 3rd person tense is a great idea because you play God and dip into each character’s worldview and psyche. Mostly I’ve been obsessed with 1st person voice, and will give this a go. Sounds so obvious, right?
The scene: Oakland, CA in 1959
Jim Fergesson is tagged as the “old man”, old Jim is headed for retirement and sells his auto-garage gleefully, frightened he’ll have a heart attack under one of the cars. Lydia, his Greek intellectual wife, always heading out to lectures and symposia. Al Miller, the used car salesman who rents his lot from Jim, and who always got help fixing up his cars, is taken aback by Jim’s impending sale. Chris Harman, owner of Teach Records, gets his Caddy fixed by Jim and tells him of an opportunity to invest in an auto-garage in the new Marin Gardens being built by the new highway in San Rafael. Mrs. Lane, the realtor Al goes to in hopes of finding a new lot to sell cars on, who rescues Al from the awkward Harman meting in the Oakland hills, who rolls by his car lot when he’s in the depths of despair and takes him home, embracing him.
The situation is different from each character’s perspective. Al doesn’t trust Harman’s Marin Gardens scheme, Harman hires Al as a way to get money from Jim, Harman’s scheme turns out to be legit, Lydia sics the law on Al for the $2k she gave him for his smashed-up Packard car.
Al is faced with conflicting options:
Should I call the district attorney and report Harman as a crook? Or should I try to blackmail him for trying to swindle the old man? Or should I show up at his house or his place of business and try to talk him into hiring me? Or should I just go home and go to bed with my wife and get up the next morning and go to work at Al’s Motor Sales?
Al’s wife, Julie, leaves him to continue his journey alone:
He felt the rift, the ghastly, purposeless rift. What did it matter now whether he went on or not? But he was going on; he was on his way alone to Salt Lake City and whatever came after that. Maybe this is better, he thought. For us to separate. At least they won’t get both of us. It was hopeless from the start to try to make her go along. He thought, You can’t force people to do anything. I can’t make Julie do what I want her to do, any more than Lydia Fergesson could force me to send flowers or go to the mortuary. Each of us has his own life to live out, for better or worse.
auth=Dick, Philip K.