Thursday, December 30, 2010
We Can't Read It For You
Other projects have kept me from my reading and, to be honest, I'm just a few pages into We Can Build You. I haven't delved into secondary sources yet either. Just want to kind of read the book with an open mind. I noticed a couple things right off the bat:
WCBY is written in the first person! I've never made a serious survey of the different perspectives Dick used and when, but stories of his written with the 'I' voice are not particularly common - especially during this period in Dick's career. According to most of the bibliographic studies, Dick wrote Man in the High Castle, then Martian Time Slip, then We Can Build You (Dick characteristically mis-remembers this ordering in his most famous interview with Paul Williams) - and of course WCBY hiked a long, painful road to publication. But PKD's blending of high-brow literary techniques and science fiction settings makes his writing particularly interesting to me.
Much like Galactic Pot-Healer (and many of Dick's other books) lots of PKD fans have mixed feelings about WCBY - the most common criticism being the slow pacing which makes the book boring for some. I have a new pet theory that the first-person narration may not allow the novel to switch perspectives, a technique Dick uses to keep his early books moving. Question for the comment section: Are there any other early novels written say after Man in the High Castle but before Ubik that are in the first person? Dick's most famous use of first person is in the remarkable personage of Angel Archer in The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. What we may be seeing in WCBY is an early stab at the immediacy of the first person voice lifted from mainstream or high-brow literature and spliced into pulp-sf. This experiment may be boring for some, but I think the mundane aspects of the novel are precisely the place where it gets interesting.
We Can Build You is very autobiographical - from the very first organ ad seen in the paper which was inspired by PKD and Anne Dick's search for a piano in the house. And of course, there's the Jaguar:
"The Mark VII Saloon Model Jaguar is an ancient huge white car, a collector's item, with fog lights, a grill like the Rolls, and naturally hand-rubbed walnut, leather seats, and many interior lights. Maury kept his priceless old 1954 Mark VII in mint condition and tuned perfectly, but we were able to go no faster than ninety miles an hour on the freeway which connects Ontario with Boise."
Sutin writes: "For Phil, one of the greatest joys of his new "good life" was sports cars. [Phil and Anne] bought a used Peugot then traded it for a '53 white Jaguar Mark VII Saloon with a mahogany dashboard, gray leather upholstery, and a sunroof. Phil cranked it out to 96 MPH on the freeway."
Anne Dick writes a lot about the connection the autobiographical connections in We Can Build You and I'll get into those soon enough. For now, I just wanted to let you know I'm reading the book and should have more to say about it over the weekend.