Far from the cyberpunk razzmatazz that earned Dick fame (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,1968, etc.), this heretofore unpublished 1953 novel is an apprentice work of social realism.
Stuart Hadley mopes. Despite his pretty wife and pretty baby (hey, he’s pretty pretty himself), Hadley throbs from his wingtips to his Wildrooted hair with ’50s existential angst, the same mind-freak that afflicted characters in Ray Bradbury stories and Rod Serling TV shows. He’s an Ike-era prole, a Philco salesman at Modern TV who gets beat up in a bar fight by goons calling him “a Red.” He isn’t really, despite a flirtation with progressive presidential candidate Henry Wallace, but Hadley’s hip enough to see the American Dream as a con. Sure, he fantasizes about success, a swinging pad with “modern prints on the walls, cushions on the floor, Chinese mats, Bartok playing in the background on a custom-built phonograph,” but he’s stuck in a drab marriage to Ellen, “a ripe moist melon within panes of glass.” Itchy for deliverance, Hadley strays with Sartre-spouting bohemian Marsha, editor of Succubus, a sort of Jungian-fascist magazine cluttered with anti-Semitic editorials and artsy photographs. Very strange. But no stranger than Marsha’s squeeze, Theodore Beckheim, a black Billy-Graham-meets-Ayn-Rand evangelist who’s convincing San Francisco that the End Times are nigh. Enthralled with Beckheim, Hadley ditches his left-wing pals from high school, the Golds (too Jewish!), and his Donna Reed-ish sister and her go-getter hubby (too bourgeois!). A Dark Night of the Soul ensues before Hadley wakes up (a changed man!) and returns to his wife’s arms.
An overwritten and too-long period piece that serves as a reminder of just how strange the ’50s could be.