February 26, 2007

Philip K. Dick, Humpty Dumpty in Oakland (Victor Gollancz, 1986). 199 pages.

The last non-sci-fi novel Dick wrote, published posthumously.

Much like the city and times that the novel is set in Humpty Dumpty poses questions of class and race. Classwise, there is the capitalist (the shady record label owner and financier Harman), the petit bourgeois in Jim Fergesson (garage owner and small landlord), the working class in Al Miller (used car salesman), and then the under class in Al's Black neighbor Tootie who trained his dog to perform tricks to get some extra scratch at the bar.

While race isn't a central theme, it is ever-present. For example Jim flatout refuses to take any advice given by a African-American regardless of how sensible it might be. Al's neighbor Tootie & his wife are two of the few characters who seem to have a sense of what is going on with Al's deterioriating state of affairs. And not once but twice, it's Al's Black real estate agent, Mrs. Lane, who bails him out of a desperate spot.

Humpty Dumpty has the trademark Dick unreliable (paranoid?) anti-hero protagonist, complete with the muddled knot as all the threads of the story converge into one event. The reader is left to deduce what Al's motives were, just as Al is left with the same question.



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