It's hard to make a case for the realist novels. The implicit assertion of the Dick- credibility boom goes something like this: There's this writer who works with the pop-culture iconography of science fiction but with such mad originality and verveˇand emotional intensityˇthat he created his own personal genre, surrealistic and freewheeling, with enormous capacities for humor and despair and for a sophisticated metacritique of capitalist culture (despite, ahem, infelicities in the prose). He deserves your serious attention as much as any realist writer. This is a bunch to swallow in the first place. It's asking an awful lot of our literary culture then to say: Oh yeah, that same guy, the visionary pop-cult surrealist? Well, he also wrote these seven puzzling and unforgettable novels in a dour, lower-middle-class realist modeˇsomething like Richard Yates˝meets˝Charles Willeford. These, too, deserve a look (despite, ahem, infelicities in the prose). That double-reverse may simply be too much.

Nevertheless, even the very worst of those realist novels would better reward your time than Vulcan's Hammer. Not to be a bully.

I can't keep from comparisons to other artists whose sprawling fecundity make any such essay as this the equivalent of providing the reader with an umbrella before ushering her out the door and into a hurricane. Soˇjust to focus on this next bouquet of titles again for a momentˇif Dick is Hitchcock, then Dr. Bloodmoney is his The Trouble With Harry (perverse pastoral). If he's Altman, Simulacra is A Wedding (underrated but overcomplicated), and Clans of the Alphane Moon is Beyond Therapy (disturbed). If he's Graham Greene, Time Out of Joint is Brighton Rock, but if he's Dylan, it's Another Side Of. If he's Picassoˇoh, never mind.

In a review of Joseph McBride's eight-hundred-page master biography of John Ford, Jonathan Rosenbaum notes that in the galley copy, McBride sliced through the thicket to provide a "Ford's Greatest Films"ˇbut then cut it out of the final book. Let me not deny you this serviceˇafter all, I've only been adjusting and polishing this list in my head for the majority of my life. Therefore, the irv de la irv, in no particular order: Castle, Stigmata, Ubik, Valis, Androids, Bloodmoney, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, A Scanner Darkly, Martian Time-Slip, Confessions of a Crap Artist, wait, shit, OK, fifteen, Now Wait for Last Year, Time Out of Joint, Maze of Death, Galactic Pot-Healer . . .

Perhaps I fear that if I ever finish this listˇthe making of which is an extension of my obsessive searching in bookstores for Dick's books even after having found them allˇI will die. Or grow up. Similarly, this is probably the right place to admit that I've never actually read Gather Yourselves Together. I suppose the truth is that I'm saving it.

Jonathan Lethem is the author of Motherless Brooklyn (Doubleday, 1999) and other novels.
 
     
     
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