Philip K Dick – Humpty Dumpty in Oakland

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Humpty Dumpty in Oakland is another one of Philip K Dick’s non-science fiction books. It was written in 1960, but not published until 1986, posthumously.  A rewrite of an earlier lost mainstream story about a Greek immigrant titled A Time for George Stavros, it is the story of two men chasing the American dream – one is an elderly garage owner Jim Fergeson and the other is Al Miller who runs a used car lot next door to Jim’s garage.

Worried that his health is failing him and that he might have a heart attack, Jim sells up the garage and chases an investment opportunity presented to him by entrepreneur Chris Harman. Jim’s business neighbour Al is a nervous type who pops goofballs (barbiturates) when his nerves are at their worst. He’s trying to change his fortunes too, but sees trouble lurking around every corner.

Humpty Dumpty in Oakland is a story of old age (the Humpty Dumpty in the tale being Jim with his chronic heart condition and a loose grasp on reality at times) and paranoia. Al is going through some sort of mental breakdown where his judgement of people and his actions are fuelled by a manic paranoia – he sees conspiracy where there is none and feels slighted by Jim when he really has no reason to feel that way.

There’s an interesting ending to the story where a black woman who has featured every now and again in the tale picks Al up in her car after he has lost his business and his wife, and has hit rock bottom. She tells him that she was going to a party but will take him home for a private party instead. To me she actually represents to the devil. You’ll have to read it to see if you agree. Looking back through the story it does appear that she has manipulated Al by feeding him malicious lies about the old man’s prospective investment partner Chris Harman.

According to biographer Lawrence Sutin, once Philip K Dick had finished rewriting this book, which was turned down by at least one publisher during his lifetime, he turned his attention back to science fiction and wrote the Hugo Award winning The Man in the High Castle.

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