My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Throughout the 1950's, Philip K. Dick continued to write mainstream novels involving working class characters and realistic situations. His agents were never able to place any of these titles with publishers, at least not until several years after Dick's death when the Dickian industry began in earnest and publishers were scrounging for new material. Dick sometimes disparaged sf output, but he continued to have faith in these realist novels into the 1960's.
Time out of Joint, published in 1959, is a science fiction story that reads, for much of the time, as one of Dick's mainstream efforts. The characters are middle management types, one manages the produce department of a local grocery store, another works for the water department. They live in a new suburb of modest homes and are somewhat civically active. One couple, Vic and Margo, share their home with Margo's brother, Raigle, a war veteran who makes a comfortable living by answering a daily newspaper quiz, Where Will the Little Green Man Land Next. He is always right and has become something of a celebrity.
The first odd moment arrives when Vic looks through a newly arrived brochure from the Book-of-the-Month Club and wonders who Harriet Beecher Stowe might be. It's possible he wouldn't know, but later Raigle sees a layout in Life Magazine and marvels that the featured starlet's breasts can maintain the tilt they have in the photographs. Since this is a Philip K. Dick novel, all three characters analyze the breasts in some detail but then also wonder among themselves just who Marilyn Monroe could be that she would merit so much attention.
The next day, while Raigle contemplates adultery with the neighbor's wife, he takes her to the municipal swimming pool, and when he goes to the refreshment stand for cokes, the stand and its manager fade from sight leaving behind only a piece of paper with the printed words SOFT-DRINK STAND. Raigle puts the note into a box he keeps in his pocket where similar messages read DOOR, FACTORY BUILDING, BOWL OF FLOWERS.
We are now in Dickian territory, where few people are who they claim to be, and a trip past the city limits is a trip to another world. Dick earns his standing as the connoisseur of American paranoia with this one. Early on Raigle has the insight that he may be the most important person in the world. He's no dummy.
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