tag: Mainstream

The Builder

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Amazing Dec 1953

In this quasi-retelling of the Biblical story of Noah a middle class suburban man begins constructing a boat in his backyard without any real understanding of why he is doing it. He spends more and more time away from his job, much to the frustration of his wife, and he endures the mockery of his neighbors who suspect he might be crazy. 

One of his neighbors points out that his boat has no sails or engine, something he hadn’t considered. Just as he is facing despair over wasting his time and energy building something so pointless it begins to rain. 

Cast of characters

  • Ernest Elwood – the titular builder
  • Liz – Elwood’s wife
  • Bob and Toddy – Elwood’s sons
  • Joe Hunt – Elwood’s neighbor
  • Jack Fredericks, Charlie, Ann Pike – Elwood’s co-workers

Confessions of a Crap Artist

Confessions of a Crap Artist
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“I am made out of water. You wouldn’t know it, because I have it bound in. My friends are made out of water, too. All of them. The problem for us is that not only do we have to walk around without being absorbed by the ground but we also have to earn our livings.”

Confessions of a Crap Artist is the best of PKD’s mainstream novels and the only one to make it to market while he was still alive. He wrote it in late 1959, but it wasn’t finally published until 1975.

Jack Isidore moves to Marin County, California to live with his sister Fay. He gets involved with a local UFO group that believes the world will soon end while Fay cheats on her husband Charley with Nat Anteil who recently arrived in town.

The book deals with the same familiar themes as Dick’s other mainstream works (unhappy marriages and infidelity in Northern California) but manages to rise above the glumness of those other novels by weaving together Jack’s first-person point of view with Fay’s first-person POV and a third-person narrative dealing with Charley and Nat.

Cast of characters

  • Jack Isidore – the titular crap artist
  • Fay – Jack’s sister
  • Charley Hume – Fay’s husband
  • Nat and Gwen Anteil – a newlywed couple who recently moved to Point Reyes
  • Claudia Hambro – head of the Drake’s Landing UFO group

Puttering About in a Small Land

Puttering About in a Small Land
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Roger and Virginia Lindahl, a generally unhappy couple living in Los Angeles, decide to send their son Gregg to a boarding school several hours away. Roger meets one of the other mothers at the school and ends up having an affair. Like most of Dick’s mainstream novels that weren’t published until after he died, this one is cynical and downbeat. It’s likely the best of the bunch, although the bar is low… don’t get too excited.

Dick often borrowed from his other mainstream books, probably raiding them for ideas since they had remained unpublished. Modern TV Sales & Service (with a repairman named Olsen) first appeared in Voices from the Street and was again repurposed in Dr. Bloodmoney.

Cast of characters

  • Roger Lindahl – owner of Modern TV Sales & Service in Los Angeles
  • Virginia Lindahl – Roger’s wife
  • Gregg – Roger and Virginia’s seven-year-old son
  • Edna Alt – owner of Los Padres Valley School
  • Liz Bonner – mother of two boys who attend Los Padres
  • Chic Bonner – Liz’s husband
  • Pete Bacciagalupi – salesman at Modern TV Sales & Service
  • Olsen – repairman at Modern TV Sales & Service
  • Teddy – Roger’s ex-wife
  • Van Ecke – the math teacher at Los Padres
  • Mrs. McGivern – the science teacher at Los Padres
  • Marion Watson – Virginia’s mother
  • Jules Neame – owner of the garden supply store next door to Modern TV
  • Herb Tomford – floor manager of L & B Appliance Mart

Gather Yourselves Together

Gather Yourselves Together
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Gather Yourselves Together is Dick’s first novel, written in the early 1950s but not published until 1994. An American metals company located in China is bought by the Chinese and three employees stay behind on the company’s premises in order to facilitate the transfer to the new owners.

Through flashbacks we find out Verne had a prior relationship with Barbara back in the U.S., and we learn that Carl is socially immature. He’s twenty-three but characterized more like someone closer to sixteen. It feels like a book written by someone only guessing how adult relationships work.

Cast of characters

  • Carl Fitter, Barbara Mahler and Verne Tildon– our three protagonists
  • Penny and Felix – Barbara’s friends in Castle
  • Don Field – Verne’s acquaintance… Teddy’s boyfriend before she jumps ship to Verne
  • Teddy – Verne’s girlfriend
  • Bill Herndon – Verne’s other passenger on the way back to NY from Castle
  • Jimmy Petio – Carl’s friend from summer camp when he was twelve
  • Harry Liu – the Chinese man who arrives to make sure everything is in order before the changeover to the new owners

Other things to know

  • The American Metals Development Company – aka ‘the Company’
  • Castle – a resort town up the coast from Boston
  • The Walker Club – a jazz club in NY

In Milton Lumky Territory

In Milton Lumky Territory
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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.
  • Cathy Hermes – Lumky’s friend in Pocatello, Idaho

Voices from the Street

Voices from the Street
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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
  • Sally Sorrell – Stuart’s sister
  • Bob Sorrell – Sally’s husband