Sunday, February 28, 2016

A pop from the past

The Broken Bubble, by Philip K. Dick, 1956.

This realist novel is one both in and out of its time, the 1950s. Philip K. Dick wrote it in 1956 and it is both a mirror to the contemporary world and to PKD's mind. That in itself recommends it to the discerning philophile (or Dickhead).

The main characters are Jim Briskin, a disk jockey, and his ex-wife Patricia, with whom he is still in love. Then there is a young couple, Art and Rachael, with whom Jim and Pat become enamored. Shortly we have a marital mess, with all the characters continually changing their minds about which partner they want to sleep with or marry or remarry or unmarry. On top of that, throw in some juvenile delinquents who are sort of neither here nor there but provide a certain greasy comic relief. One is actually a would-be science fiction writer, which is about all the science fiction one gets in this book.

Close to the end a grotesque creature called Thisbe Holt, an exotic dancer, makes a brief appearance, nude and rolling around inside a plastic bubble, at a convention of equally grotesque optometrists. Dick seemed to give especial emphasis to this image, as his title for the book was "The Broken Bubble of Thisbe Holt" (it was not published until 1988, with the shortened title). The original title would have been peculiar in that Thisbe scarcely appears, and her sudden spherical entry is jarring. It is intrusive and seems to have no place in this narrative of two troubled marriages. She's like La Saraghina meets Dr. T. J. Eckleberg. What a strange and unexplained departure from ordinary 50s reality, and what a weird stew this book suddenly becomes!

So whose bubble really breaks in this novel? Thisbe's? Pat and Jim's? Pat has an amazing scene where she almost kills herself--"In the darkness of the apartment, she painted; she put more darkness around her. She lifted darkness and carried it about the living room and the bedroom and into the bathroom and the kitchen. She took it everywhere. She brought it to each thing in the apartment, and after that she turned it to herself." Jim returns to find her covered with blood.

So this is not just a book of its time. It exists just around the corner from the incomprehensible, trembling on the edge of just a little bit of insanity. If we remember the 50s, these scenes could be part of the fabric. They certainly were part of Philip K. Dick's.