Voices From the Street by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
For my review of Humpty Dumpty in Oakland, one of Dick’s mainstream novels, I wrote “I feel like a total traitor, because I got through the first six chapters — to page 94 — and finally gave up. Philip K. Dick is one of my two favorite writers, the other being Charles Bukowski. I’ve ALWAYS loved his books, even if some are imperfect. This one, though, was simply dull.
It’s a well known fact that Dick hated being considered a sci fi hack and wanted to be considered a mainstream novelist.”
Well, Voices From the Street is another mainstream novel of his that was never published during his lifetime, indeed, not until a few years ago. And I tried, I really did, but I can’t finish it. I just can’t. I got to page 216 out of a little over 300 and I can’t make the final 85 pages. I’m too disgusted. There’s not ONE likeable character in this novel! Not one! It made it a grueling task to read. How can you identify with characters if they’re all so crappy?
As another reviewer pointed out, “anyone [who’s] read Dr. Bloodmoney or Humpty Dumpty in Oakland will instantly have recognized blatant similarities: a boss named Jim Fergusson and an everyday salesman/repairman named Stuart and in all three books the characters Jim and Stuart play similar roles; guilty boss and disgruntled employee.” Stuart is the main protagonist, and he’s got a good job selling TVs, moving up to management, a pretty, young wife and a baby. It’s 1950s America and he’s living the dream. But he’s unsatisfied and doesn’t know why. His boss, Jim, is a crabby, grumpy a**hole who mistreats just about everybody. Stuart’s sister is married to a massive a**hole to runs roughshod over everyone around him.
Stuart begins to become fixated on a religious movement run by a large black man named Theodore Beckeim, who has persuasive powers and believes the world is going to end sometime soon. And what happens in this novel? Not too much. Stuart goes to a health food store. Stuart gets into verbal tiffs. Stuart goes to San Francisco with an unlikeable woman named Marsha to meet Beckeim, which proves to be anticlimactic. Jim and Stuart argue. It’s BORING. No wonder Dick never got it published! Stick to your early sci fi, Mr. Dick, because that stuff is brilliant. This is horrible!
Another thing about this novel is its overt racism. I’m convinced Dick was a closet racist, although I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere. In my review of Flow My Tears, I wrote the following:
“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.”
I wrote those words in my review of Martian Time-Slip, a novel where we meet Martian “niggers.” Yep. In this novel, what do we see? “Chink”, “nigger”, and “kike” all appear throughout the novel, and the Golds, a Jewish couple, are particularly represented in repulsive terms. Frankly, the book is antisemitic. I don’t know if this represents Dick’s own thoughts or just were part of the times, but it’s pretty repulsive and I could do without reading about “niggers” and the like in Dick’s books.
In other reviews, I read the last part of the book picks up as Stuart sinks into madness. However, I just can’t bring myself to read it. I just can’t do it. And I’ve started VALIS already and already I’m bored. I tell ya, I’m going to stop reading lengthy portions of books hoping for something interesting to happen. I’m going to give a book something like 30 or 40 pages and if it hasn’t hooked me by then, I’m dumping it. I’m sick of reading utter crap just to get through a book. Fortunately, there are still many Philip K. Dick books I have yet to read, many of them allegedly good, so I’ll look forward to reading those. This book is not recommended and I’m being kind in giving it two stars.