When I moved to the city, one random day I stopped by a local bookshop down the street from where I lived, and discovered their extensive Philip K. Dick selection. Funny enough, in my wanting to read Philip K. Dick, a huge name in contemporary science fiction, the first book I picked out was Confessions of a Crap Artist…the only NON-SCIENCE-FICTION Philip K. Dick novel published during his lifetime.
In one of Dick’s attempts at appealing to a mainstream audience, he strays from his sci-fi comforts with Confessions of a Crap Artist, a story essentially about the psychological turbulence of family drama, and a picturesque depiction of 1950s suburban life in Marin County, California.
While I did not get the typical PKD science fiction elements, I was not disappointed with Crap Artist. Dick’s straightforward, almost-detached way of writing translates into a fitting tone for his novel. He shifts between several perspectives, limited-third-person for most characters while first-person for Jack Isadore, the novel’s titular “crap artist,” defined as a crazy man who believes in crap ideas—conspiracy theories like sunbeams have weight and the earth is hollow, etc.
The novel immerses the reader into Jack Isadore’s life following some troubles with the law, causing him to have to go live with his sister Fay and her husband, Charley Hume. Through the enchanted lens of Jack’s perspective of the story, obsessed with doomsday cults and alien rumors, the reader is presented with the actual story, of the marital problems between Fay and Charley Hume. The couple struggles to conquer each other, passive-aggressively fighting for control of the house, the animals, and even—to a certain extent—Jack, who got caught up in their marital war. Following Charley’s hospitalization from a heart attack, he uses Jack to spy on Fay who was then cheating on him with her married neighbor.
It is within this intimate struggle of characters and family relationships/duty that Dick’s story really appealed to me. His characterization was marvelous! I felt like I could identify with Jack, who was essentially our protagonist. People call him a crap artist for the theories he believed in, to a point ignoring his symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. He feels a little crazy, because people say he is. But through his eyes, we as the reader also see that other people are pretty damn crazy too; their vices were just better-disguised than his.
At the bulk of it, Confessions of a Crap Artist is a story about a bunch of really bored and shitty people, through the eyes of a supposedly-crazy man. Through Jack’s habits, Dick also paints a very realistic portrayal of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the silent alienation that one may feel possessing it.
I had a good time reading Confessions of a Crap Artist, however there were moments when the characters did become too unlikeable, unbearable, that the story was a bit hard to get through. The overall end was worth it, but some parts during the journey getting there, I found myself growing annoyed and uninterested in the characters (like Charley…Charley annoyed me).
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“She makes life over, he realized. She controls life, whereas I just sit on my can and let it happen to me.”