We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Book, 1962

“I would never live in a house with dirty windows” said Constance Blackwood. This is her response to her sister Mary Katherine’s suggestion that they let their windows get dirty to the point of opacity, as a way to prevent the townspeople from seeing into their house. Her response turns a blind eye to the fact that there are closed rooms of the house filled with broken things, the top half of the house has been burned away and the townspeople regard them as inhuman creatures. But as long as their windows are clean, they are leading a proper life. Some people are like this. They can ignore massive, fundamental problems in their lives by focusing on keeping up appearances. Constance’s aversion is to the situation of her family, who are outcasts due to the suspicious deaths of almost all of them six years prior. What grows between the remaining family members is an insular system of love and devotion, each protecting each other in their own disturbed ways. It creates a reassuringly justified agoraphobia, the “castle” of the title, perfect except for the gleefully ignored fact that they are actually serving penance.

Drop Edge of Yonder

Book, 2008

I picked up Drop Edge because its author, Rudy Wurlitzer, wrote two of my favorite movies; Walker and Two Lane Blacktop. I had always heard it was also linked to another of my favorites, Dead Man (it turns out Dead Man was “unofficially inspired by” Drop Edge in its original screenplay form). Drop Edge lived up to all those expectations. Its passive protagonist greets the kaleidoscopically surreal world he inhabits with a shrug of acceptance, navigating from one disarmingly strange and oddly stirring scene to the next with such frequency that you feel like he must have lived ten lives (as is appropriate- we’re in tall tale territory here). That protagonist, Zebulon, is trapped between the worlds of life and death and is compulsively drawn to a woman in a similar situation, each hoping that they can help free each other from purgatory. But if there’s a through-line in this story, it’s lost in the tornado of wild mountain doin’s that question whether or not those big questions really matter. Drop Edge drifts back and forth from addressing its themes, to not, then back again, like a dead leaf lackadaisically drifting to the ground.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

Book, 1965
This is the first Philip K Dick book I ever read, so you’ll have to indulge me in coming to terms with the basics of such an essential author. And anyway, if you’re mad at me about that, you probably have a ponytail. I always thought Dick’s stuff was going to be wilder at a basic craft level. The legend of the man himself, one of visions and fantastic beliefs, led me to believe that the way his brain worked was going to produce something more foreign to conventional perception. So imagine my surprise when Palmer Eldritch turns out to be a breezy, pleasant, downright linear affair. It makes sense; the man’s ever increasing popularity and profound influence on his chosen genre could only have been achieved by something with wide appeal. This conventionality, however, ends up being used against you. When the plot turns wild and reality starts warping, the plain dressing serves only to magnify the mind bending nature of the proceedings. But things never get too weird. Anything truly not understandable is usually explained within the next five pages. What that leaves us to spend our time deciphering then is the themes. This book came out in the 60s and is about corporations’ god-like intrusion into our lives through media. This immediately confirms everything that I’ve always heard about Dick; that his themes were ahead of his time and his method shaped the future of the genre. Dick.