Beyond the reality bending, beyond the suburban discontent, beyond the fragile male ego expressed as nonchalant sexism, PKD’s preference for the word “vast” most struck me from the very first novel I read by him, especially by the time Jason tells Alys, “But you’re vast,” (170) in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. It’s not a word I hear every day, and Dick uses it constantly.
Here’s the thing, though: Flow My Tears was published in February 1974, written before the 2-3-74 events that triggered the whacked out, mystical wanderings of VALIS, Radio Free Albemuth, and The Exegesis. So, “Vast Alys” existed before VALIS.
I’m not sure what that proves, other than Dick had, at least, the name of his AI cosmic diety from the Roman Empire picked out before he ever encountered the supposed Xerox missive. I’m not saying he was lying; pink light psychedelics, bishop-possessed cats, and theophany are likely to happen when you combine Gnosticism with oral surgery. They don’t call it transcen-dental-ism for nothing.
Overall, VALIS is the better written and more entertaining version of Radio Free Albemuth, the posthumously-published, unpolished prototype of VALIS, though I don’t think I would have enjoyed it half as much if I wasn’t already drowning in the pages of Dick’s personal journal, The Exegesis. Officially, only two of the characters are constructs of the author, PKD himself and his alter ego, Horselover Fat, while the other supporting characters are modeled off of real people (including Tim Powers), but it’s easy to interpret all of the group members as some form of Dick’s own psyche, battling to win his logic and his soul, much like Joanna Russ’ The Female Man (1975).
Perhaps I’m just desperately looking for some much needed self-awareness from this shifty author. Fortunately, Dick takes a lot of jabs at himself in VALIS (“Probably he sneaked off and wrote about it in his journal” 25), a refreshing change from the ardent zealousness of his exegesizing, though so much of the humor, based on the journal the public wouldn’t read until thirty years after his death, must have gone over heads. (The Exegesis excerpts seeded throughout VALIS are mere hints of his journal’s leaden and contradictory ramblings.)
The most important difference between RFA and VALIS: PKD discards that ridiculous idea of a folk music revolution, instead planting subliminal messages in a simulacra David Bowie film, which makes more sense for the time period, though maybe an album by the genre-crossing Linda Ronstadt, whom he loved so much, would have been the better choice to bleed the ideas of VALIS and government corruption into mainstream America. But PKD was too deep inside his own head to be in touch with pop culture.
Anyway, here’s this month’s BINGO card. It’s pink!
One BINGO. Being a fictionalized, semi-autobiographical account, VALIS is missing that signature PKD sense of oppression and near-futurism. Much as PKD heroes complain of their struggles against the state, PKD himself (and many of his paranoid heroes, actually) had it pretty good, and the PKD of this novel exercises a surprising amount of legal and financial freedom. Another interesting deficiency: not a single mention of two of his other favorite words, “sidereal” and “ergic.” I felt sure I’d see them here.
Next month’s review for the Bookpunks’ Exegesis with a side of fiction support group: The Divine Invasion (1981)