tag: Mainstream

The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike

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Dick wrote this one in 1960, and it was the first of his unpublished mainstream novels to be published after he died.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

Mary and the Giant

Dick would go on to do a much better job with a female protagonist in his last book The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.

In Mary and the Giant, twenty-year-old Mary Anne jumps from job to job and man to man trying to figure out her life in the small California town of Pacific Park. She first has a fling with the black singer Carleton Tweany before getting involved with recently-arrived Joseph Schilling who has decided to open a record shop.

It’s creepy for fifty-something Schilling to have an interest in Mary Anne, but she seems to be a willing participant in the relationship until she begins to act like he’s a monster, even though he’s the only somewhat sympathetic person in this otherwise dismal book.

By the end of the story Mary Anne decides to run off to San Francisco with the idiot piano player Paul Nitz, and in the last chapter we see they started a family.

Cast of characters

  • Mary Anne Reynolds – our protagonist. A twenty-year-old girl
  • Joseph Schilling – businessman who opens a record store in Pacific Park
  • Max Figuera– Schilling’s business partner
  • David Gordon – Mary’s fiancé
  • Taft Eaton – owner of the Lazy Wren bar
  • Paul Nitz – pianist at the Lazy Wren
  • Carleton B. Tweany – black singer at the Lazy Wren
  • Ed and Rose Reynolds – Mary’s parents
  • Beth and Danny Coombs – a couple who follows Schilling to Pacific Park. Beth had a brief affair with Schilling in the past
  • Chad Lemming – a local folk singer
  • Leland Partridge – hosts a party for music wholesalers in San Francisco
  • Sid Hethel – an obese composer at Partridge’s party

Humpty Dumpty in Oakland

Humpty Dumpty in Oakland
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Dick wrote the mainstream novel Humpty Dumpty in Oakland in 1960. It was published after he died, in 1986.

Al Miller, a used car salesman on a lot next to Jim Fergesson’s auto repair garage, has to figure out what to do with his life when the old man decides to sell the shop and retire. Through the businessman Chris Harman, Jim finds out about an investment in an auto repair business in the expanding area around Marin County. Paranoid Al, convinced Harmon is a crook and a swindler, does all he can to sabotage Jim’s plans.

Dick has a tendency toward over description in these mainstream books. I prefer his sci-fi when he can get a trip done with something like ‘the flapple flew from San Francisco to New York in an hour’ instead of this where he spends five pages on the old man’s uninteresting drive on the highway out to Marin County.

The book picks up once it focuses more on down-on-his-luck Al rather than Jim Fergesson. It’s not bad, but just like The Broken Bubble, there isn’t a whole lot to recommend.

Cast of characters

  • Jim Fergesson – owner of an auto repair garage
  • Lydia Fergesson – Jim’s wife
  • Al Miller – runs Al’s Auto Sales next to Jim’s garage
  • Julie Miller – Al’s wife
  • Mrs. Lane – a black realtor helping Al find a new spot for his auto lot
  • Chris Harmon – runs Teach Records. Suggests that Jim invest in a new repair shop in Marin County
  • Bob Ross – works for his father-in-law Chris Harmon
  • Boris Tsarnas – Jim and Lydia’s lawyer
  • The Dolittles – middle-class black family. Mrs. Dolittle rents to Al and Julie

The Broken Bubble

The Broken Bubble
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The Broken Bubble is a mainstream novel Dick wrote in 1956, although it wasn’t published until 1988 after he died.

A San Francisco radio DJ and his ex-wife get involved with a teenaged married couple, and in a subplot, a woman lets herself get kicked around inside a plastic ball for the amusement of some drunk optometrists at a convention party.

It lacks a hook to get excited about, although the relationships felt real. Maybe a touch melodramatic at times but definitely not terrible like I kind of expected.

Cast of characters

  • Jim Briskin – radio DJ for KOIF. Jim Briskin is also the name of the news-clown in The Crack In Space
  • Patricia Gray – Jim’s ex-wife
  • Bob Posin – salesman for KOIF
  • Art Emmanual – eighteen-year-old married kid befriended by Jim
  • Rachel – Art’s wife
  • Ferde Heinke and Joe Mantila – Art’s friends
  • Ludwig Grimmelman – mid-twenties. Head of some kind of revolutionary group that Art and his friends belong to
  • Luke Sharpstein – owns Looney Luke’s Used Car Lot. This character was repurposed for The Simulacra
  • Nat Emmanual – Art’s older brother. Owner of Nat’s Auto sales.
  • Hugh Collins – wealthy San Francisco optometrist
  • Tony Vacuhhi – Bob Posin’s acquaintance
  • Thisbe Holt – the girl in the plastic bubble at Hugh Collin’s party

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer
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The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is the last book Dick wrote, published just after he died in 1982. I thought it was terrific, although I’m someone who enjoys the exploration of theology that makes up most of the plot.

Our narrator, a woman named Angel Archer, tells about her father-in-law Bishop Tim Archer who has a crisis of faith after the discovery of an ancient document casts a doubt on Jesus’s divinity. It opens on the day of John Lennon’s murder in 1980, but the majority of the story is flashbacks.

This one is considered one of Dick’s “mainstream” novels, and I wish he had been given a chance to write more books like this. It’s funny and smart and grounded in the real world of Berkeley, California.

Cast of characters

  • Timothy Archer – Episcopalian Bishop of California
  • Jeff Archer – Timothy’s son
  • Angel Archer – our narrator. Jeff’s wife and Timothy’s daughter-in-law
  • Kristen Lundborg – Angel’s best friend and Timothy’s mistress
  • Bill Lundborg – Kristen’s schizophrenic son
  • Edgar Barefoot – hosts a radio show about mysticism on KPFA in Berkeley
  • Fred Hill – owner of the Bad Luck restaurant. Possible KGB agent
  • Dr. Rachel Garret – the elderly medium they use in an attempt to talk to Jeff from beyond the grave

Other things to know

  • The Zadokites – an obscure Jewish sect
  • The Zadokite documents – fictional documents that predate Jesus by 200 years.
    Supposedly they contain “Q” which is the basis for the synoptic gospels in the Bible. The Zadokite fragments, part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, are a real thing, but the rest was invented by Dick

I picked up this copy at the library. The author photo on the back, credited to Nicole Panter, shows Dick wearing a Rozz Tox t-shirt, a reference to Gary Panter’s Rozz Tox Manifesto that argues artists should embrace capitalism. Nicole Panter was the manager for The Germs, and Gary won three Emmys for his set designs for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

Some Rozz Tox quotes:

  • Capitalism for good or ill is the river in which we sink or swim.
  • Waiting for art talent scouts? There are no art talent scouts. Face it, no one will seek you out. No one gives a shit.
  • Law: If you want better media, go make it.