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Book Review – Search for Philip K Dick by Anne Dick

February 25, 2010 2 comments

Search for Philip K Dick, a memoir/biography by PKD’s third wife Anne, was first published in 1993 but was so obscure and expensive that it was almost as though it wasn’t published at all. That situation changed in 2009 when Anne republished Search in an affordable edition by Point Reyes Cypress Press. I was eager to read this work, which is said to have been influential on Lawrence Sutin in the preparation of his biography Divine Invasions (he read it in manuscript form), and I wasn’t disappointed.

One of Search‘s best features is the scholarly, even investigative way Anne Dick has gone about researching her material. The book is divided into three sections: Part I covers the period 1958-64 (during which Anne met and then married Phil); Part II details Phil’s life from 1964-1982; and Part III investigates Phil’s early life (1928-58). The first part is necessarily the longest and most detailed, given that this is the period during which Anne knew Phil the best, but this is not to say that the other sections are without merit. Anne interviewed a whole host of people who knew Phil at various stages of his life, and she weaves their accounts into her narrative most effectively.

Part I brings the Philip K Dick of the Point Reyes years to life in a way that only someone who knew the man so intimately could ever do. As a result, Anne recreates the flavour of their life together in compelling fashion that goes far beyond the scope of an ordinary biography. Here the reader will find a wealth of information relating to the circumstances in which the couple to be first met, as well as a sense of the encompassing love that grew between them. Anne seems to have fallen deeply in love with this warm, attentive and intelligent man head over heels, and there’s apparently nothing of the mental illnesses that plagued Phil for most of his life to be found here. Anne also provides an insight into the composition of many of Phil’s novels of this time (many of which are considered by most, including me, to be among his very best). Thus it saddens the reader to hear of the sorry circumstances leading to the breakup of Anne and Phil’s marriage by 1964. Anne’s thesis basically seems to be that Phil’s latent mental illnesses precipitated this breakup, and that he threw away his best chance of happiness in severing this bond. Having read about PKD’s life extensively, I am inclined to agree. Phil would never be happier than he was in the early years of his marriage to Anne.

In Part II, we are told a tale that will be familiar to readers of Sutin’s Divine Invasions, that of the chaotic remaining years of PKD’s life. There’s not a great deal of new material here, although it is true that Anne independently interviewed many people who knew Phil during this period. Another possible reason for the overlap is that Anne says that Sutin borrowed a great deal of information from Anne’s then-unpublished memoir. For me, the highlight of this section were the details of Phil’s dealings with his ex-wife and daughter Laura, both of whom he appears to have treated poorly indeed. Anne seems to have gotten on well with Phil’s second and fourth wives, Kleo and Nancy, but it’s clear that considerable antipathy exists between Anne and Phil’s fifth wife Tessa. Thus there’s less about the final decade of Phil’s life than one would hope to find in a fully fledged biography.

Anne eschews conventional chronology by having Part III deal with the years leading up to her meeting with Phil in 1958, by which time he was almost thirty. Here, again, the narrative is not as fully fleshed out as I would like, but then what I am really after is a 1000 page biography of PKD which does not and probably will never exist. This section is about on a par with similar chapters in Divine Invasions, although I do feel that Anne told the story of Phil’s father Edgar better than Sutin.

In summary then, Search is a fascinating portrait of Philip K Dick from the unique perspective of Phil’s third wife, Anne. It will be required reading for PKD scholars in years to come, and offers a fascinating insight into what were almost certainly the best years of Phil’s life, during which time he produced much of the work for which he is famous today. Anne Dick’s memoir also excels in its attention to detail. While not as well rounded as Divine Invasions overall, it offers the most complete insight into the life of the man who wrote The Man in the High Castle, Martian Time-Slip and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch as we are ever likely to get.