The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike was written in 1960, then (along with Humpty Dumpty in Oakland) rejected by potential publishers Harcourt, and published in 1984, two years after Philip K Dick’s death. When I read it a few years ago on my Kindle, I quickly found it was not what I thought it was going to be – a story about an android, or simulacra as Dick terms them.
What it was actually was a non-science fiction story set in American in the early 1960s. It is somewhat of a dark comedy of misunderstanding between two married couples who live near each other in a farming area but who have jobs in the nearby city. Walt and sharp-tongued Sherry Ambrose are a competitive couple who live nearby Leo and his obedient wife Janet Runcible. Leo is a Jewish real-estate agent intent on trying to clean up the area’s water supply. The contact between the two couples is minimal but the hate between them is very much apparent.
The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike is one of Dick’s most thorough explorations of maelstrom of emotions that accompanies being trapped in an unhappy marriage – something he already knew a lot about in 1960. Indeed the character Sheriff Christen is based on Dick’s landlord at the time of his unhappy third marriage to Anne the local Sheriff Bill Christensen. Dick was married five times during his lifetime and struggled to balance his needs as a writer with family life.
There’s a lot observed early on in the novel about race relations i.e. the views of ‘normal’ white Americans when it comes to Blacks and Jews, the role of the woman as a wife (e.g. around working, staying at home, raising a child) and the unseen class system in the neighbourhood. Alcoholism, domestic violence and keeping up with the Joneses are also themes that feature in the book and are undoubtedly drawn from the author’s own experiences. However, I’d like to believe that Walt’s rape of his wife is pure fiction.
It’s not until over halfway through the book that the title can be understood when Leo Runcible uncovers what he thinks to be a Neanderthal skull on his land. Experts are called in to determine whether the skull is the genuine article or a hoax. As a result a bigger truth is uncovered which leads Runcible to selflessly financially ruin himself despite being mostly disliked by the residents of his town.
The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike is a well-observed novel providing an interesting snapshot of American life at that time, and is far less ‘pulpy’ than a lot of Dick’s highly-rated science fiction work.
Image by Peter Dargatz from Pixabay