Milton Lumky was great. I don’t mean the book was great, because it wasn’t, but the character of Milton Lumky was terrific. It’s too bad he is only in his eponymous book for about forty pages.
Twenty-four-year-old Bruce Stevens passes through his small hometown near Boise, Idaho. At a party there he meets Susan Faine. Turns out she was his fifth grade teacher, but they get married even though she’s eleven years older than him. Bruce quits his job at a discount department store in Reno, and he helps her run her mimeograph shop in Boise.
On a tip from the traveling salesman Milton Lumky, Bruce picks up a load of imported typewriters in Seattle to sell in their store, but he neglects to notice they have a Spanish keyboard. First he tries to unload them to his old discount shop without telling them about the keyboards, but when Susan alerts his old boss, Bruce tries to change the keyboards over to a standard keyboard himself so he and Susan can still sell them for a profit. Behind Bruce’s back Susan arranges for his old boss to buy the typewriters from them, and even though they would break even, Bruce gets angry and leaves. The story wraps up on Bruce’s daydream where he imagines he and Susan open a shop in Denver after the success of their Boise store.
According to Dick’s foreword: ‘The ending is a happy one. What more can an author say? What more can he give?’
Cast of characters
Bruce ‘Skip’ Stevens – our protagonist
Susan Faine – owns a mimeograph shop in Boise. Bruce’s former fifth grade teacher
Peg Googer – Bruce’s old girlfriend
Ed von Scharf – Bruce’s boss at the C.B.B. discount department store in Reno
Zoe de Lima – Susan’s business parter at R & J Mimeographing Service
Taffy – Susan’s seven-year-old daughter
Milton Lumky – a traveling salesmen in the western U.S.
Voices from the Street is one of Dick’s very first novels. I was surprised to see it hadn’t been published until 2007. It’s better in my opinion than most of his other mainstream works that were published in the ‘80s, although it’s been cut down considerably to 300 pages from the original 650+ page manuscript.
Twenty-five-year-old Stuart Hadley drifts aimlessly through the summer of 1952 in Oakland. He works as a salesman at Modern TV Sales and Service, dabbles with a religious group, finds himself involved with a woman who publishes a political magazine and has a complete breakdown after he gets promoted to manager of the TV store.
I thought this one was interesting. I could identify with Hadley’s existential crisis, at least until he goes crazy and becomes a rage monster. In the end the world defeats Hadley. He survives but without the passion of his earlier dreams.
Cast of characters
Jim Fergesson – owner of Modern TV Sales and Service. Jim Fergesson is also the owner of Modern TV Sales and Service in Dr. Bloodmoney and it’s the name of the mechanic in Humpty Dumpty in Oakland
Alice Fergesson – Jim’s wife
Stuart Hadley – salesman at Modern TV Sales and Service
Ellen Hadley – Stuart’s wife
Theodore Beckheim – speaker for the Society of the Watchmen of Jesus
Olsen – serviceman at Modern TV Sales and Service
Joe Tampini – salesman at Modern TV Sales and Service
Dave Gold – Hadley’s Jewish left-wing college friend
Laura Gold – Dave’s wife
Marsha Frazier – editor of the political magazine Succubus
Horace Wakefield – runs a flower shop near Modern TV Sales and Service
I’m going out on a limb to say Dick has a bitter and cynical view of marriage and relationships. In The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, Leo Runcible bickers with his alcoholic wife Janet, and Walter Dombrosio fights viciously with his wife Sherry.
Runcible and Dombrosio, neighbors in the small California town of Carquinez, don’t like each other. When Dombrosio invites his black mechanic over for dinner, it costs Runcible, the local realtor, a sale. Runcible retaliates by calling the police on Dombrosio when he sees him driving drunk, and Dombrosio loses his license. Dombrosio then plants a fake fossil of a Neanderthal skull on Runcible’s land which Runcible tries to exploit for the publicity until he realizes he’s been had. It turns out Dombrosio dug up the malformed skull from the unmarked grave of someone who lived in old Carquinez several generations ago. These chupper-jawed people resembled Neanderthals because of a deformity caused by poisoned water in the area. At the end of the story, Runcible invests everything he has in order to fix the tainted Carquinez water supply.
Dick filled this novel with thoroughly unlikable people. Dombrosio rapes his wife in order to get her pregnant so she can no longer work, because it insults his manhood or something to have her support him after he quits his job. He also throws a chair at her, but they stay together. The 1950s were messed up.
Dick wrote this one in 1960, and it was the first of his unpublished mainstream novels to be published after he died. He would reuse the idea of the Neanderthal chuppers in one of the many subplots of The Simulacra.
Cast of characters
Leo Runcible – realtor in Carquinez
Janet Runcible – Leo’s wife
Walter Dombrosio – package designer at the Lausch Company
Sherry Dombrosio – Walt’s wife
Norm Lausch – owner of the Lausch Company
Chuck Halpin – Walt’s black mechanic
Michael Wharton – a fourth grade teacher and fossil enthusiast
Seth Faulk – reporter for the Carquinez newspaper
Tom Heyes – Carquinez veternarian
Dr. Freitas, Jack Bowman & Dudley Sharp – University of California anthropologists investigating Runcible’s skull