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Set in San Francisco in the late 1950s, Humpty Dumpty in Oakland is a tragicomedy of misunderstandings among used car dealers and real-estate salesmen: the small-time, struggling individuals for whom Philip K. Dick always reserved his greatest sympathy.
Jim Fergesson is an elderly garage owner with a heart condition, who is about to retire; Al Miller is a somewhat feckless mechanic who sublets part of Jim's lot and finds his livelihood threatened by the decision to sell; Chris Harman is a record-company owner who for years has relied on Fergesson to maintain his cars. When Harman hears of Fergesson's impending retirement he tips him off to what he says is a cast-iron business proposition: a development in nearby Marin County with an opening for a garage. Al Miller is convinced that Harman is a crook, out to fleece Fergesson of his life's savings. As much as he resents Fergesson he can't bear to see it happen and—denying to himself all the time what he is doing—he sets out to thwart Harman.
“A kind of pulp-fiction Kafka, a prophet.”—The New York Times
“He reworks the territory of soured domesticity (à la Richard Yates and John Updike) in a working-class milieu anticipating Raymond Carver. Decades later, his oeuvre (like Philip Roth's) is lovingly enshrined in our national pantheon.”—Los Angeles Times
"It may be hard for some to accept that the same writer who recently snuck into the American canon as a visionary and paranoid pop surrealist also penned a half dozen or more proletarian-realist novels set in the California of the '50's and early '60's, the best of which occupy a region demarcated by Richard Yates on one side and Charles Willeford on another. But accept it."—Jonathan Lethem
“Long before establishing himself as one of sf's foremost innovators, Dick served his writing apprenticeship by penning sober mainstream tales about harried American workers. First published in 1986 in England and now receiving American publication, this early novel recounts the intertwined fates of California-based used-car-salesman Al Miller and his aging landlord, Jim Fergessen. Perpetually down on his luck, Miller sees the world through cynical lenses, whereas Fergessen, despite a recent heart attack, remains optimistic. When Miller discovers that Fergessen is selling their shared business and taking the advice of a shady record producer to purchase a new one, he becomes suspicious. With the aim of undermining the deal, Miller recklessly talks his way into a job for the producer and bumbles headlong into life-unraveling charges of fraud. Dick aficionados will recognize the familiar themes of psychosis and confrontation with inimical powers that permeated his later work. As a formative novel, this book contains surprisingly strong writing and character development and reveals an interesting dimension of the Dick canon.”—Carl Hays, Booklist
“Fans of late SF icon Dick (1928-1982) who have yet to discover his obscure nongenre works will be pleasantly surprised by this profound—and perplexing—1986 posthumous tragicomedy. Unpublished in the U.S., this tale revolves around two truly miserable characters: Jim Fergesson, a world-weary, ailing garage owner preparing to retire, and Al Miller, a shiftless used car salesman who rents lot space from Fergesson. Learning that Fergesson is investing his life savings in a questionable real estate venture, Miller hatches a series of ill-conceived and delusional schemes he hopes will grant him some sort of redemption and save Fergesson from getting scammed. Evoking the economically booming, socially repressive and prejudiced America of the 1950s, this paranoid and ambiguity-filled exploration into the psyche of the small businessman showcases not only Dick's wild imagination and sardonic wit but also, and most notably, his mastery at intertwining perception with reality.”—Publishers Weekly