Voices From The Street
by Philip K. Dick
Review by Andrea Johnson
Tor Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765318213
Date: 13 November 2007 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Stuart Hadley suffers from idealism. Young and intelligent, with an attractive loving wife and about to become manager of the electronics store he works in, he couldn't be more miserable. The crime of idealism leads him to alcohol, extra-marital affairs, questionable politics, religious cults, and neglecting his family life, all in the name of "Is this really all there is?"
You may have read plenty of Philip K. Dick's science fiction, but keep in mind Voices From The Street is mainstream literature. Don't worry, it still has plenty of the trappings of the PKD you've come to expect: religious fanatics, drug abuse, and a main character whose dearest wish is to escape from his current reality and wake up in a new one.
In California, in the 1950s, life was pretty simple: finish high school, get a job, get married, and start a family. Stuart Hadley has done all of this. So why is he so unhappy? Employed at a basic electronics repair shop, Hadley is set to become manager after the store owner opens up a satellite location. His wife, Ellen, is about to give birth to their first child. Hadley reacts to all of this with alcoholic binges and unexplainable violent fantasies. Ellen excuses all of his behavior, knowing it is part of Hadley's search for himself. She simply wants to be a part of it all.
Two things happen to Hadley nearly simultaneously, pulling his attention to something new and exciting: he is introduced to a growing religious sect, the Watchmen of Jesus Society, whose African-American leader preaches self-responsibility, grace, and the golden rule, and he meets a woman named Marsha, who is a racist neo-fascist, a woman with a cruel tongue who says things Hadley is afraid to say, but may agree with, sometimes, deep down. Hadley is torn -- does he join the Watchmen Society, a group mostly populated by poverty-stricken African-Americans, whom he feels uncomfortable around, or does he join up with Marsha, who publishes a sleek, modern, expensive magazine, who is always dressed to the nines, who sees him as an artist, but with whom he shares no beliefs? It's ironic, when you think about it. Is he uncomfortable around people who share the same beliefs with him because they are poor, or because he feels he is required by society to constantly be moving up the social ladder, to always account for his actions? In what direction will he find salvation?
Originally penned in 1952, but never published until now, this is an interesting time for Voices From The Street to be hitting store shelves. We are in a similar situation: post-war, a time of religious fanaticism, some groups feeling the need to be politically correct, others eschewing political correctness for the honesty of their feelings, however wrong or misguided they may be seen to be.
Voices From The Street is not an easy book to read. In my experience, Philip K. Dick was always a better "idea" man than an "execution" man. Choppy and slow at times, the book is filled with odd little nuggets of beauty and genius, a phrase here, a sentence there. This novel has an incredibly slow start; it isn't even made clear who the main character is or why the reader should care. We are on this journey with Hadley; the reader only starts to care about his life once Hadley himself starts to care. Only at the end, after Stuart Hadley's final violent crime and time in the hospital prison ward, do we learn the punishment for his crime of being an idealist. In an odd and unexpected manner, the novel ends on a positive note.
I recommend Voices From The Street to anyone interested in the early works of Philip K. Dick and readers interested in novels that take place during tumultuous political times.