My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I thoroughly enjoyed Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint. I tell ya, he rarely disappoints. In this novel, he’s his paranoid self, delving into alternate realities, but the beauty of this book is that it feels more “innocent,” I guess — much less like his later drug crazed paranoid freak show novels (which I still enjoy). This book was written in 1958, published in 1959, and I think it shows a fresher Dick at work, one who hasn’t been addled by psychosis as in the ’70s and later.
The story revolves around Ragle Gumm (odd name, eh?), who lives with his sister and brother-in-law in a small 1950s town. He makes his living solving difficult newspaper puzzles, for which he is paid, and because of which he has become famous. He has won every puzzle, every day for years. So, the tension to keep on winning is getting to him.
Everything seems reasonably normal until we get a hint of “differentness” while the family is playing cards with their neighbors, the Blacks. Vic, Ragle’s brother-in-law, goes in the bathroom and tries to pull the string to turn on the light, panicking when he can’t find it, flailing around. He soon realizes there’s a light switch on the wall, but KNOWS there was a string, even though no one else can relate. Ragle, too, starts experiencing odd goings on, with things disappearing only to be replaced with pieces of paper with words on them describing what they just replaced, like a soda stand. There aren’t any radios in town — just TVs — but when Vic’s boy constructs a radio using a crystal, they overhear people talking about Ragle and the plot gets crazy.
Ragle starts to realize all is not what it seems, especially so when he tries to leave town, only to get hunted down and returned to his house with his memory largely wiped. Late in the book, he and Vic compare notes and realize something is very wrong, so they try and make a run for it, using a stolen 18 wheeler. They get out, find another town, and find out they’re actually in 1998. 1959 is a farce. They’re living in a make believe world. And it all centers on Ragle and his puzzles, the importance of which we discover toward the end of the book.
The end of the book, like so many of Dick’s novels, seems a little rushed, a little too tidied up without the careful thought that went into the writing of the entire novel. Nonetheless, it’s unique and interesting, and it left me wondering why it had taken me so long to discover this entertaining novel. Many reviewers compare this book to The Truman Show film, and I can certainly see why. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but suffice it to say, the paranoia is valid, the alternate reality almost believable, and Dick was truly a visionary. Authors today can’t compete with what he was churning out 50 years ago. This is a short novel, at only 256 pages, and it took me less than a day to rip through it. I couldn’t put it down, even with a somewhat slow opening to the book. I heartily recommend this to, not only Dick fans, but to anyone who likes speculative fiction, as there’s not really too much pure “sci fi” in this book — anyone can enjoy it. Pick it up; you won’t be disappointed.
About Scott C. Holstad
Scott Holstad is the poetry editor for Ray’s Road Review.