Loving to hate

This is my review of The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike by Philip K. Dick.

Energetic, pushy and prickly, realtor Leo Runcible has great ideas for property development in rural California, but he will probably never gain acceptance in 1960s Marin County, being not only an outsider but Jewish. An exaggerated grievance against his neighbour Walt Dombrosio sets off the quirky chain of events which form the theme of this novel.

As he continually switches his viewpoint between four of the main characters, so that Walt and his classy wife Sherry are as central to the tale as Leo and blurrily drunken Janet, I became engrossed in his capture of how they perceive each other and of the continuous small shifts in emotions – the observation of psychology and social life. This is a match for Philip Roth, I found myself thinking. Then, the narrative slips more into black farce and although I accept that the early 60s was a period of male chauvinism, of the sense that a man was emasculated if his wife worked, of unabashed racism and callous dismissal of the disabled, I began to have a nagging concern as to exactly how misogynist and non-PC Philip Dick may have been himself – or perhaps this is a mark of his skill as a writer.

It seems that this was one of the mainstream novels which remained unpublished in his lifetime, since his cult status was achieved only through his sci-fi, which does not interest me personally. Although I agree with a reviewer who found the end of this book somewhat rushed – he sets up an interesting final twist but fails to develop it adequately – he has clearly been underestimated as a writer with a keen eye, sharp insights into how mismatched people may tear themselves apart in relationships, “hell is other people” leavened with wry humour and a laconic style. I shall read another, but perhaps that will then be enough.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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