Sunday, January 8, 2012

On "Search for Philip K. Dick" by Anne R. Dick ***

This biography of the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick by his third wife (of five) is in some ways rather untraditional. It is, after all, a biography by an ex-lover. And in many ways, it is a kind of personal mystery story, which is why it is set up the way that it is.

By set-up, what I mean is that the book is not in strictly chronological order. We don't start at Phil's childhood but rather at his meeting Anne. His adult life starts there, and the rest of the book covers his life until his death. And then--then--Anne returns to Phil's childhood and covers his life until the moment he meets Anne. This strategy lends the tale a kind of poignancy one might find in a movie--and a kind of shift in sympathies. What I refer to in sympathies is that one feels most of Anne--until the end--when now we see Anne's entry into Phil's life from another perspective, that of his previous wife, Kleo. Now, instead of a love story, it's a tale of betrayal. Anne, the devoted wife who rescues Phil, is now the other woman who steals him.

This isn't to say that I felt sympathy for Anne all along. It's always a bit hard to feel sympathy for the adulterer, but Phil--at least in his reckoning--wasn't happy; Kleo didn't want to have children (though later we learn it was Phil who didn't want them--alas, just excuses for leaving). Beyond that, Anne has some emotional intensity I can't sympathize with; she and her new husband have fights in which she throws dishes--rather scary to me.

But as time progresses, she mellows, and it is Phil who becomes increasingly detached and disturbing. And Phil is disturbing--abusive, depressive, dependent, and drug addicted. The dependence on drugs began early. The child of divorced parents, in high school, Philip becomes progressively more uncomfortable with his surroundings and eventually drops out. This discomfort intensifies as he begins his career as a writer in early adulthood, such that he is diagnosed with agoraphobia among other things and issued prescriptions, which would prove to be a bane throughout his life.

It is during his life with Anne that he becomes increasingly paranoid and dependent on these drugs--and on Anne. But he also becomes abusive and, to put it bluntly, crazy. At some point, he gets his wife put into an insane asylum. A constant liar, he's able to convince others she's trying to kill him. This, obviously, lends to further problems in the marriage.

Eventually, he leaves Anne. And in this is the mystery that Anne tries to solve. She was, despite all his troubles, greatly in love with the man--and hoped and wished for him to return ever after. She was willing to put up with his insanity. Why, why did he leave? she asks, and that is what she sets to find out. In the process, she learns that she didn't really know him--and can't.

Despite Anne's constancy, he moves onto other women and other parts of California. He also moves on to more drugs--lots of them--and eventually ends up in rehab, so that at the end of his life, he is much less dependent on them than in the middle portion of his life. Meanwhile, his writing finds its audience, and his books begin selling enough copies such that, always poor early on, he's now rolling in doe. And as such, he becomes an incredibly generous man, though also a crazy one, as all-consumingly dependent on those around him as at any other point in life. Most women, eventually, can't handle it and move on--or he moves on from them to another. This inability to keep a stable family angered him throughout life.

Also he was bothered by the fact that people were only interested in his science fiction. He was interested in ideas, the state of man, and as such thought of himself as a literary author, but the literary books didn't sell--at least until he was a very well-established name late in life. So he had to write literature through his science fiction.

But the science fiction, as fiction by most authors, revolves around some rather consistent themes and motifs--the same stories told time and again. And with many of them based in people and events he actually knew.

The book ends with Anne's dreams about Philip. These alone are fascinating, but they are especially so when written out by a wife who is completing a biography of the man.

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