Gather Yourselves Together by Philip K. Dick is a ‘straight’ (i.e. non-science fiction) novel, purportedly his first ever and published posthumously. Written sometime between 1949-1951 it was considered unsuitable for publication at the time and to be honest I can see why. Not a great deal happens and while the three characters are reasonably interesting it is a shame that Dick concentrated on the theme of maturity and sex rather than building some kind of mystery within the deserted factory the three characters are left to look after while they wait for the new owners to arrive.
Set in 1949, after the victory of the communists in China, a US company abandons its operations in China. The company leaves behind three randomly selected employees to handle the transition – the young Carl Fitter, crusty alcoholic Verne Tildon and Barbara Mahler who was previously involved with Tildon before they joined the company. She lost her virginity to him after being plied with alcohol and has mixed feelings about the experience.
This doesn’t stop her sleeping with Tildon again as something to ease the burden of being alone in the deserted factory. However, again she has mixed feelings about what they have done and leans towards spending time with the naïve Fitter who reads his philosophical treatise to her when he’s not spying on her skinny dipping in the company lake. Prior to this Dick provides some backstory for Fitter – about his family life and upbringing – which reads as if it is somewhat autobiographical.
Fitter makes a rather odd comparison to the US and the Roman Empire, and between early Christianity and the Chinese Communists – this is pretty typical Dick at his most rambling. Despite being sent to sleep by such meanderings and a drunken interruption by Tildon, Barbara eventually seduces Fitter. Then the Chinese turn up. The two Chinese featured in the book are not characterised particularly delicately.
All in all I appreciate the opportunity to read a story that Dick wrote when he was in his early twenties, but found Gather Yourselves Together the most disappointing of his ‘straight’ novels so far. I only have Voices from the Street left to read, so I hope it’s better than this.