I Am Alive and You Are Dead: The Strange Life and Times of Philip K. Dick by Emmanuel Carrère
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wow! What can you say about Philip K. Dick and this biography? I mean, I knew Dick was a paranoid, but I had no idea to what degree he was. Stunning. I’m surprised he didn’t die from a stroke much earlier in his short life. This book also confirmed for me that many of Dick’s books were written in a drug addled state, although he only took LSD once — everything else was uppers, for the most part. It’s how he churned out his novels so fast.
It seemed to me that Dick had a miserable, tortured life, and I left the book feeling quite sorry for him. His interactions with women played a significant role in his life — he was married five times. We can see elements of these women in some of his works. However, I thought the biographer kind of glossed over some really critical information about these relationships for several of the marriages. I think more could have been learned about Dick if more were put into that area.
I always wondered if Dick was writing from his life, if he was as paranoid as his characters, as caught up with alternative worlds and realms of being. This book seems to answer those questions with a resounding yes, I was right! He really did seem to write from his life. Clearly, he was one messed up dude. However, his literary gems wouldn’t exist today without his tortured life to serve as an example for him.
I wasn’t completely sympathetic to him though. Carrere makes clear that Dick routinely repeated the same mistakes over and over again throughout his life, particularly with women. It’s like he just never learned, never progressed. That saddened me. One would hope life’s mistakes would engender personal growth, but that’s not the case for everyone.
I have to admit to being a bit disgruntled with my having read this book though. It kind of took Dick down a notch in my admiration. He didn’t seem to be a very likeable person in real life, and his paranoias just about drove me crazy (no pun intended). His books reflect his thinking, which is to say enthralling yet warped. One thing that was pretty good about the book, however, was the author tried, it seemed, to really get inside Dick’s head and as the book went along, it seemed to mirror Dick’s life in his increasing paranoia and delusional states of being. Clever way of writing the book.
Finally, I was really surprised to see how much religion meant to Dick. He converted to Christianity and while that didn’t dissuade him from drug abuse and whoring around, it remained a critical element of his life for the remainder of his life. Interesting…. On the whole, it was a pretty sound book, and I don’t know how Carrere pulled off such a comprehensive work. The only reason I’m not giving the book five stars is because, as I previously stated, I think Carrere could have spent more time on Dick’s relationships to give us a better understanding of the man. Otherwise, good effort.
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