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Puttering About in a Small Land by Philip K. Dick
Review by Carolyn Frank
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765316943
Date: 08 December 2009 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

If you think every book by Philip K. Dick would include brain-blowing drugs, mind-altering paranoia, alien worlds or even an alien view of our world, you would be wrong. Two couples initially joined only by placing their boys in the same private school in the early 1950s southern California spend their lives Puttering About in a Small Land. This mainstream literary novel, first published after PKD's death, employs no fantasy, no miraculousness, not even any heroic activity.

The story is told from the perspective of three adults: Roger and Virginia Lindahl, and Liz Bonner. Having moved out to Los Angeles during World War II to work in the war factories, Roger now owns a shop that repairs radios and early black-and-white televisions. Capitalized by his mother-in-law, Roger's shop keeps him busy but also provides him with a place to putter around with the electronics. Virginia teaches modern dance but has spent much of her time with their asthmatic young son, Gregg. When Virginia takes Gregg on the 3-hour drive up into the hills with its clear fresh air to the private school to look the place over, she meets Liz Bonner, who has just dropped off her two sons.

Although Roger initially is against the idea of sending Gregg off to school, after driving there himself, he changes his mind. As Virginia loathes the drive and Liz's husband has lost his license, Roger and Liz end up driving the three boys back and forth each weekend. This segues into an affair, about which Virginia eventually finds out. As each of these three mildly unhappy people find and loose their measure of happiness, the world goes on. Since these people are all small-time players in the game of life, none of their actions impact much of their world, and everyone continues to soldier on. PKD's imprint is conveyed through the provided precise details of everyday life and the escalating emotional intensity of the characters.

If post World War II suburban California is an unfamiliar but potentially interesting milieu for you or if you have the need to read every PKD ever published, then you would appreciate this book. For the rest of us PKD fans it serves as a reminder that the man could write mainstream literary novels in addition to the science fiction that we have greatly enjoyed during the second half of the 20th century and on into the 21st.

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