This .GIF image perfectly captures the range of distinct reactions that Philip K. Dick's Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said got out of me in the expanse of reading it in the last four days. There was bafflement--then disbelief--then mild disgust--and, finally, karmic relief. Don't get me wrong, it's not a badly written book. Of course fucking not, it's PHILIP K. DICK! His outstanding Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep will forever destroy me in this world and in another parallel existence because asdfghjklmalfunctionerror10101...
Anyway, that being said, something along the way went wrong as I peruse through the two hundred and four pages of this novel; I can't really pinpoint exactly where, but all I know is that I couldn't help but alternate between confusion and rage as I went on. Originally, around eighty pages or so, I was going to rate it with four stars because, right from the get-go, I was just enjoying the brisk, no-nonesense yet highly engrossing pacing and linguistic style that Dick had incorporated in his storytelling; the breadth of the entire narrative work felt so much lighter than Do Androids Dream, honestly, making it easy for me to keep up with every twist and turn as I follow the protagonist Jason Taverner, a government-experimented Six which basically means a person with enhanced physical/sexual appeal and whatever attractive aptitude there is. He's a former musician-turned celebrity talk show host and in a relationship with another icon named Heather Hart, also a Six. After a confrontation with one of the women he duped and took advantage of, promising her a career in showbiz only to sleep with her a few times, he was left physically compromised and woke up in a dingy motel room with only a wad of cash on hand but with no trace of discernible legal records of proof of identity whatsoever.
It's as if he's been literally deduced to non-existence.
Set in a fictional futuristic world of 1988 in the United States where everything seems to be under the command of a rampant police state where laws and legislation are just plain FUCKED-UP (sexual legal consent is reduced to thirteen years of age; African-American lineage is sanctioned to die out), the premise and the mystery that this book are hitched on were promising and I really did eat it all up in the first two days of reading. By the fourth day, however, as I stare blankly at the last page (right after containing myself from convulsing in laughter), I realized it had more to do with my unmistakable dislike for every goddamn character featured in the book with the exception of the police general Felix Buckman (whom I was 50/50 with) and the very brief insert of one Mary Anne Dominic (who really should have been a major character as oppose to some flimsy extra in the background).
Other than those two, I cringe my nose at the rest, more particularly in vile contempt for the overall way the female characters are portrayed, the greatest offenders of them all have to be the insecure, selfish and self-entitled paranoid bitch Heather Hart, and the clinically insane (sort of a) sexual predator who is skilled in the art of emotional blackmail, Kathy Nelson. The least offenders have to be Ruth Mae (whose speech about love and grief was actually pretty philosophical--too bad it came off completely dissonant to her general characterization), and the bisexual (pansexual?) fetish-driven drug addict Alys who had an incestuous affair with her twin brother and sired a son with him. And YES she is less offensive than Hart and Nelson because at least Alys had a personality I did enjoy reading about while the other two were so emotionally flat and perceived only in how the main male character objectifies them. They're placeholders that reflect his sexual frustration and inadequacy which make them rather one-dimensional miserable fuckers.
Normally, I could overlook gender-biased portrayals if it serves the story or a theme in the narrative. However, it didn't feel like these poorly characterized female characters ever served a purpose except to interact with the male protagonist, Jason Taverner. I don't have any kind of concern about his character since he took that mescaline drug. I suppose I eagerly wanted to know what happened to him that he lost his identity and people don't remember him at all in spite of being a popular son of a bitch. My interest in his welfare continued to decline the more he showed what a pompous chauvinist he was (although his very short interaction with Mary Anne Dominic rekindled some sympathy because that was the only sweet and humanizing moment for his character in this book).
Then again, everyone in this book is miserable--and not even in a compelling way that makes me sympathetic for them. Whatever end they got (Dick was kind enough to wrap up their fates nicely in his Epilog) is something they more than deserved, in my brutally honest opinion. It's actually great that Dick didn't leave it to chance, or his readers' imaginations, as to how these characters' fates came to an end because I personally didn't form any sort of connection with them to ponder about what happened in their lives after the novel finished. So thank Loki that Dick inquisitively wrapped it up.
I love character-driven stories; I root for characters with problems and struggles that make me sympathetic to their plights; characters who later on develop self-awareness of their bad choices instead of just going through the motions of being victims forever. None of the characters in this book ever grew or did anything that could have redeemed them, with the exception of Mary Anne (who is so slight of a character that she only appeared in six or eight pages).
I did LOVE THE ENDING though. Basically, the beautiful blue vase that was the product of love, commitment and talent that Mary Anne produced was able to be displayed in a museum (while she had a career in ceramics; how ironically bittersweet and awful was it that the shoe-in extra gets a happy ending?) AND MORE OR LESS OUTLIVED EVERY MISERABLE FUCKER IN THIS BOOK. That was poetic justice if nothing else.
In any case, I will keep reading more of Philip K. Dick's books because THERE ARE SO MANY OUT THERE and I am looking forward to acquaint myself more with his writing. Overall, Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said just didn't work for me as a sum of its parts, especially when the parts are composed of characters that I perceived to be grimy, irresponsible, disablers of human dignity and progress. The mystery plot and the answer concerning Jason Taverner's sudden lack of identity was still a pretty thrilling read, though.