Like most of Dick’s non sci-fi novels The Broken Bubble was published posthumously. As with his other non-genre outings this centres on American life in the middle of the 1950s, and in this case on the interaction between a couple of teenage newlyweds Art and Rachael and a couple of divorcees Jim and Pat.
The broken bubble of the title perhaps has a double meaning. It relates directly to the transparent plastic bubble that a stripper performs in for an optometrists’ convention which is stuffed full of rubbish and thrown out of a hotel window by the disgruntled drunken audience injuring a passer-by in the process. Art is implicated in the accident but just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The police harassment of young people is repeatedly a feature of the story.
The title also relates to Pat’s aborted attempt to run off to Mexico with Art when he turns out to be way too dysfunctional to present a viable future partner, and perhaps also the corruption of the seemingly perfect teenage marriage.
Pat’s ex-husband Jim is a DJ in a local radio station but is sent on the equivalent of ‘gardening leave’ after refusing to read out an irritating advert for a used car lot. He split up with her because they were unable to have children. He is still very much in love with her despite the fact that she is a very highly strung borderline alcoholic who works at the radio station.
After visiting the young couple with Jim, a drunken Pat falls in love with them and particular fixates on Art. Art jumps at the chance of sleeping with Pat who he has lusted after since seeing her on his odd visits to the radio station. We discover that Art, as well as hanging around with some anarchic radicals planning some kind of violent attack on the town, is enthusiastic but naïve in his attitude toward sex and abusive towards Pat.
Rachael, Art’s wife, is a determined young woman intent on protecting the future of the baby she is carrying. Having recognised the failure of her marriage with her high school sweetheart Art she latches on to Jim. Jim tries to help as best he can while still trying to rescue his relationship with Pat and tries to help everyone involved find some status quo. It’s clear that he understands Pat very well and is wholly forgiving of her actions.
By the end of the story the two couples are reformed in their original configuration and hopefully some valuable life lessons have been learned.
For me the character of Pat is the most interesting being the most extreme and fucked up of the pair of pairs in the story. Her despair and desperation was engrossing and the story left me wondering if Dick was drawing upon his experience of such a character in his real life.
On the downside some of the dialogue seemed rather poorly written with little distinction between how the young and older characters spoke and the subplot involving the anarchists was not fully fleshed out.