Science Fiction Book Review

Mary and the Giant

(2005) Philip K Dick, Gollancz, 7.99, pbk, 232pp, ISBN 0-575-07466-3

This is a new edition of Dick's 1987 mainstream (ie. not genre) novel set in 1953 in Pacific Park, California. Mary Anne Reynolds is 20 years old, legally a minor, but she likes to hang out at the local folk/jazz club, The Lazy Wren. Joseph Schilling is 58 and looking for a nice stable town in which to open a record shop, his lifelong ambition. Mary is a vulnerable woman, with an abusive father and indifferent mother, who is drawn to big men who remind her of her long-lost grandfather. She'd like to make her own way in the world, but 1953 America, with it's sexism and bigoted attitudes, doesn't leave her much room for manoeuvre. Following a brief affair with a black singer, Mary takes a job at Schilling's record store. The two become close, but their own affair is destined to be short-lived. Can Paul Nitz, jazz pianist at the Wren, help to save Mary from herself, or is she doomed to wander aimlessly through life, being exploited?

This novel is full of the colourful and sharply depicted characters that one associates with Dick's writing and, as an evocation of a certain time and place, it is masterful. However, one can't help but wonder if the character of Mary is as sympathetic today as she might have been in the past. I have a feeling that most modern audiences, far from empathising with Mary, would be more inclined to give her a smack in the face - she is aimless, demanding, petulant and as exploitative as she is exploited. Schilling, by contrast, though a scandalously 'older man' by 1953 standards, is much more sympathetic - he just wants to settle down, find love and work his way to retirement. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, modern audiences make of this book. I enjoyed it as I enjoy most of Dick's writing, but I was still disappointed with the book as a novel. Especially the, some might say, inevitable ending (Mary finally finds fulfilment in her baby - but we don't really know if it's the singer's, Schilling's or Nitz's, or whether it's true fulfilment or just the best she can hope for in her world and time) in what seems a tacked-on final chapter. Interesting for the Dick reader, but not really recommended.

Tony Chester

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