A Review of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Flow My Tears, the Policeman SaidFlow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! What else is there to say after reading this wild prototypical Philip K. Dick novel? Published in 1974, it’s about the future world of 1988 where there are flying cars, floating houses, packs of marijuana for sale, and all sorts of other crazy things he got wrong. Could that have been on purpose? In this world, it’s a typical Dick police state where having your ID means likely freedom. Not having ID means forced labor camps, where they also send university students at war with the police and national guard. Bizarre already, right?

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said opens with the popular Jason Taverner, a TV variety show host and singer with 30 million viewers on NBC. He’s a “six,” a type of enhanced human, although sixes keep their identity as such a secret. One day Jason wakes up in a crappy hotel room and discovers no one knows him and he doesn’t have any ID. A quick search allows him to discover his birth certificate isn’t even on file. He bribes the hotel clerk, who turns out to be a police informer, to take him to a forger who would get him new, faked IDs. She, too, turns out to be a police informer, and she’s certifiable. Kathy is young and believes that her husband is in a camp. She’s working to gain his release. We find out later that she’s delusional.

There are a number of female characters we’re introduced to in this book: Kathy, Heather, Rachel, Alys, and Mary Anne, all with unique characteristics and stories to tell. It’s interesting to see how Dick weaves Jason’s interactions with these women into a somewhat complex plot, one that gets wilder as the book progresses.

Jason is taken in to be questioned by the police, but is released. However, Police General Felix Buckman takes a personal interest in the case, caught up with how a person could be totally off the grid. Jason does not officially exist.

Jason spends two days in this state, trying to figure out what has happened to him and why, typical of Dick to engage the reader in identity questions. Toward the end of the book, Buckman’s twin sister — and his lover — Alys snags Jason and helps him ditch tracing entities the police hid on/in him. She takes him back to her house, where she gives him a questionable drug that totally blows his world, but strangely helps his existence to return. He finds two of his records in her possession. When he leaves her, dead on the floor as a skeleton, others can finally recognize him for the celebrity that he is and his music appears on jukeboxes. He’s back! Was it all a drug induced nightmare? It’s possibly that and much more. I don’t want to spoil the book by revealing the ending, but the ending is typical Dick, to a point. For some reason, though, I found it a bit less satisfying than other Dick endings, and he strangely included an epilogue, which shockingly wraps up everyone’s story rather nicely. That said, I didn’t like it, unlike most Goodreads readers, it seems. I got the feeling Dick rushed the ending and could have extended the book more, but just wanted to wrap things up tidily, and I didn’t like that.

Love is a major theme in this book, and it’s exhibited in several mostly unusual ways here. At one point, a character states that one can only love after experiencing grief. Also, in another rather touching part of the book, Buckman asks

“Why does a man cry? … Not like a woman; not for that. Not for sentiment. A man cries over the loss of something, something alive. A man can cry over a sick animal that he knows won’t make it. The death of a child: a man can cry for that. But not because things are sad…. A man … cries not for the future or the past but for the present.”

While that may be touching, there are some disturbing things about the book. We see pedophilia, bestiality, and incest, as well as standard heterosexual and homosexual sex, and that’s a little off putting. Also, I’m starting to notice a disturbing theme in Dick’s books: he doesn’t seem to hold black people in high regard. In this novel, black people are being sterilized out of existence and Jason seems to be glad of it. Dick also treats blacks oddly in The Crack in Space and there are pissed off, drugged out black people in Counter-Clock World. Evidently, Watts serves as Dick’s place of ultimate black fear and evil. Jason goes to a burned out Watts to get his fake IDs. But what is Dick up to here? I’ve read biographies of him and I don’t recall him identified as a racist in real life, but I’m starting to wonder. He makes sure we’re aware that blacks are to be avoided, and that’s not cool. Still, the book is an easy, quick read with a typical twist of an ending, and I cautiously recommend it. It did, BTW, win a major award and was nominated for several others, so many people hold this book in high esteem. Maybe I didn’t get quite as much out of it as they did, but I still enjoyed it and read it in less than a day.

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