- Books, Literature, and Writing»
- Books & Novels
The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike by Philip K. Dick: (A Book Review)
Today we're "reviewing" another literary novel by science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick. Those of you familiar with my "reviews" know that I call this novel literary---and one might add 'realist'---because the story's action does not point to a specific imperative; that is to say, there is not any clearly definable, specific mission that anybody must undertake. The other reason I call this novel "literary" is because, unlike Mr. Dick's genre science fiction novels, no "laws of physics" are "broken" in The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike. That is to say, nothing happens in the book that could not also happen, here, in real life.
Those of you familiar with my book "reviews" will also know, that as I use the word, review, I do not necessarily set myself up as someone competent to "critique" the work; that is not what I do. First of all, I always pay deference to the professionally published, professional writers they are due, especially from someone like me---an amateur, Internet writer. Also, with novels I do not engage in such things as critiquing plot construction and character development.
We are not here to second guess the subjective, artistic choices of the author. What I try to do with these reviews is to tell you what kind of book you're in for should you decide to read it.
With books, if I am writing about them here, on Hub Pages, you may assume that I generally like the book, if that matters to you. I also review movies; with movie reviews, mind you, I often give myself more discretionary latitude for criticism.
Let's get started!
The edition of The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike I have is hardcover, published by Tor Books, posthumously by Mr. Dick's estate in 1984. The novels runs three-hundred-four pages in length (relatively long for a PKD novel). Nevertheless, that relative brevity, by today's standards, in addition to the high quality of the prose, makes this a book that one can easily finish in one setting, if one is so inclined.
Before going into this, you should know that although this book is a "literary" novel. it is not a sentimental one. What I mean by that is that, in general, Philip K. Dick's fiction (including his literary stuff) was not, in my estimation, written to appeal to the heart, but the head.
What does that mean?
Well, I guess one thing I mean by it is that PKD's novels are books of psychological insight as opposed to emotional catharsis, you might say. What is more important in his fiction is how characters, in their interactions, think about themselves and their fellows, as opposed to how they necessarily feel about themselves and their fellows.
Still, what does that mean?
Again, well... I could explain it but you would find it tiresome. Suffice it to say, that as I use the terms "think" and "feel," in this context, one should not think of them as polar opposite, alien worlds in a "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" way.
"Thinking" is not wholly devoid of empathy and compassion; and "feeling" is not wholly devoid of logic and a sense of orderly justice. I guess what all of this amounts to, from the perspective of the reader, are fast-moving books with fast-moving plots.
The basic story is about a realtor called Leo Runcinble, who finds a strange skull on his property. At first, the apparent discovery causes some excitement in the neighborhood. Folks are starting to hold out hope that the skull is connected to the early evolutionary origins of the modern human species. But no, that is not to be.
The skull is quickly discovered to be a hoax. However, the skull does point to a birth defect, which is known to afflict certain persons in the outskirts of the community, the far edge, the "boondocks," if you will. The birth defect is a vastly oversized jaw.
The thing is, the condition---called 'chupper' jaw by the locals---may or may not be connected to the water supply, which is polluted.
This question is never resold, one way or another, in the story. This being the case, it is never clear is some action needs to be taken with regard to the water supply, in order to stave off chupper jaw. For those of you familiar with my book reviews, you know that, for me, it is precisely this ambiguity---as opposed to specificity of purpose---which makes a novel or story "literary," as opposed to "genre."
On the one hand, it may be that the water supply has something to do with chupper jaw; but then again, that may only be urban legend, the way the tale is structured.
Even though it is not clear that action needs to be taken, with regard to the water company and chupper jaw, nevertheless, Leo Runcible takes it upon himself (and, he initially hoped, as part of a consortium of concerned prominent businessmen) to buy the water company and change out all the pipes bringing in water .
I'll stop there because I don't want to give the whole plot away. Let me just say that if you like Philip K. Dick's "genre" science fiction, you should like his "literary" works, including this one.
Thank you for reading.