The Broken Bubble Paperback – 12 Jun 2014
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"The fascination of the novel lies in spotting the themes that Dick would later develop and make his own: the malleability of perceived reality, the imposition of the fake on the real and the struggle between good and evil. The Cosmic Puppets may be a minor work, but is nevertheless interesting." (THE GUARDIAN)
Four people's lives intertwine and collide in this early novel from one of the SF greats.See all Product description
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This could be for you if you like PKD's science fiction and want more.
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Okay, so if the cheating isn't the main idea, what might the main idea be? As usual with Philip K. Dick, "The Broken Bubble" seems to be about love. In this case, the characters start out with little idea of what loving is. By the time the story is over, they haven't exactly become experts, but they are a little wiser. Adultery doesn't usually work that way in real life, of course, but it works that way here, and as usual PKD makes you believe it.
Although the emphasis of "The Broken Bubble" strikes one as unexpected, the structure is pretty standard stuff. It's about two couples, one divorced and one married. Since the ex-spouses both work at the same San Francisco radio station, their relationship gets complicated fast. Jim Briskin spins records and Patricia Gray works the front office. Jim still loves Patricia, and she may love him too, but she has no confidence in her ability to love. It's hard to imagine many worse feelings.
Art Emmanual, one of Jim's fans, is an 18-year-old kid with few prospects, a pregnant 17-year-old wife named Rachael, and a group of friends whose idea of a good time is wrecking rich kids' cars as some sort of rebellious statement. Obviously, these two have enough trouble in everyday life; they scarcely have time to ask whether they love each other, let alone answer that question.
So Jim takes Patricia to visit the Emmanuals one night, thinking it might cheer her up, and the next thing you know Patricia has seduced Art in the most casual way possible. Rachael can't manage by herself, and insists that Jim take care of her until her baby is born. They may be contemplating an affair of their own.
Clearly, the purpose of cheating in this story is not just to have sex. Patricia and Rachael spend a lot of time guessing about what the purpose might be, although their respective significant others don't seem to care about that - Jim and Al, instead of figuring out why all of this goes on, want more than anything to build something permanent with a partner, so much so that they don't spend a lot of time listening to their prospective partners.
Doesn't matter much. The women never reach any definite conclusions about why the cheating has gone on, and the men don't seem to care. However, the emotional and sexual confusion does force everyone to confront themselves and their spouses or ex-spouses, change what they can change and accept what they can't. Or not. Which is an exciting story, although I wouldn't take it too literally. You know, "Don't try this at home" and all that.
As I say, structurally, this tale has been around for quite a while. It's the seemingly unrelated incidents in the story that make it really interesting.
Going back to Al's high school buddies and their hobbies, for instance, they don't seem to have much to do with the main plot. They consider their rich-kids'-car-smashing activities to be a sort of early-model anti-capitalist revolutionary movement. Rachael, needless to say, disagrees. So this organization, as incongruous as it seems to the story, winds up having a good-sized impact on Al and Rachael's relationship, and thus on the whole novel. (PKD also includes an sf story by one of these young men as a sort of in-joke. To my delight, it's awful.)
As for the source of this novel's title, it comes from an incident entirely apart from the main action, having to do with a young woman who hires herself out to conventions as a sort of erotic plaything. She climbs nude into a clear plastic ball and lets conventioneers kick the ball around. We see her in action, and unsurprisingly things don't go well. No prizes for guessing what happens to her plastic ball - the book is named "The Broken Bubble", remember. On the other hand, I'll bet you can't guess how the thing manages to land in the lives of the main characters, and what that does to their various emotional dilemmas.
There's something awe-inspiring about an author who can dump such apparently unrelated sequences into a novel and twist them into relevance. There's something even more awe-inspiring about an author who can pull off these kinds of technical tricks, while at the same time remembering to give his characters a rather touching emotional life. PKD did this kind of thing all the time, and yet most of his non-sf work did not get published until after he died. The world, as "The Broken Bubble" demonstrates, is a very strange place.
Benshlomo says, Art is long, life is short.
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