One of Dick's earliest books but his last to be published, this is the story of one man's descent into depression and madness - and his escape to the other side
Stuart Hadley is a young radio electronics salesman in early 1950s Oakland, California. He has what many would consider the ideal life. He has a nice house, a pretty wife, a decent job with prospects for advancement - but he still feels unfulfilled. Something is missing from his life.
Hadley is also an angry young man - an artist, a dreamer, a screw-up. He tries to fill his void first with drinking, then sex, and then with religious fanaticism, but nothing seems to be working and it is driving him crazy. He reacts to the love of his wife and the kindness of his employer with anxiety and fear.
Is there anything that can bring him back to the world?
Winner of both the HUGO and JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARDs for BEST NOVEL, Philip K. Dick is widely regarded as the premiere science fiction writer of his day. The object of cult-like adoration from his legions of fans, he has come to be seen in a literary light that defies classification in much the same way as Borges and Calvino. With breathtaking insight, he utilizes vividly unfamiliar worlds to evoke the hauntingly and hilariously familiar in our society and ourselves.
This previously unpublished novel is remarkable for a number of reasons, probably the least of which is novelistic merit. Stuart Hadley is a young man born to privilege; he is handsome and educated; his pregnant wife is devoted to him; he has worked his way up from salesman to manager of a television and radio shop, but he wants more. The more he wants is not clear, even to him, and his existential crisis involves him with a shady, quasi-religious sect, the Society of the Watchmen of Jesus, led by a charismatic evangelist. Stuart's flirtation with the movement soon leads him away from his placid middle-class life into a sinister association with a mysterious femme fatale, Marsha Frazier. His decline is accelerated by psychotic depression that spirals into life-threatening self-destruction. Like much of Dick's fiction, the plot skims ambiguously along an abstract surface, only occasionally revealing concrete motivation or linear connection. But that's what endears Dick's novels to millions of readers nearly 25 years after his death, and that's what makes him a significant postwar American novelist. Shallow characterization and crude dialogue show a young novelist groping for style. Still, echoes of Dick's contemporaries such as Ralph Ellison, Richard Yates, Rod Serling, Raymond Chandler and early Kurt Vonnegut Jr. resonate, and a bonus exists in Dick's impeccable eye for detail. Apart from creating an ambience that complements the novel, he provides a veritable literary museum of the early 1950s, replete with the period's social and political attitudes and dozens of references to everyday items, commonplace practices that underscore and illuminate this significant transitional period in American culture. Literary critics will have a field day; Dick fans will be in rapture.