The Search for Philip K. Dick
by Anne R. Dick
Available Format(s): Trade Paperback and eBooks
Brilliant, talented, and charismatic, Philip K. Dick had it all. Already a successful young writer with a highly promising career, in 1958 he met his intellectual and romantic soul mate, his soon-to-be third wife, Anne Rubenstein.
To his new family and friends, Dick appeared cheerful and loving. But behind the facade of an untroubled life was a man struggling with inner demons. Slowly and always in denial, Anne watched his disconnect from reality and witnessed his increasing paranoia. Philip K. Dick had begun his descent into madness.
In this riveting memoir and biography, Anne Dick creates an extraordinary portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most important writers. Through this no-holds-barred account, she reveals the compelling genius and private hell of Philip K. Dick, for better and for worse.
Praise for The Search for Philip K. Dick
“Invaluable for Dick fans and scholars because it’s told by the one person he was close to at an important turning point in his career.”
—New York Times
“Anne’s detailed account of her years with Philip K. Dick is a must-read for anyone discovering the autobiographical elements in his writing. No other biography gives the reader as strong a sense of how he crafted his fiction, where he got his characters, and what made him tick. Parts of Anne’s memoir are instantly recognizable to PKD’s readers as they describe the inspiration for many of his most bizarre fictional scenes”
—David Gill, San Francisco State University
“Besides being a remarkably accurate and lifelike picture of the man, it is also a rattling good tale, like a real-life detective story.”
—Ray Nelson, co-author (with Philip K. Dick) of The Ganymede Takeover
“The secret of Phil Dick’s greatness, as with so many other great men, is his…[third] wife, Anne. You can see her influence in the development of his novels, their increasing awareness of the human/family/sexual element. Most SF writers simply didn’t pay attention to such things, which are the entire concern of mainstream fiction. Dick was almost alone among the SF writers of his day in trying to write mainstream novels himself. And what is their constant theme? His battles with, and bafflement by, and love of Anne, the Other who never left his thoughts….”
—Thomas M. Disch, author of Camp Concentration and The Wall of America
“An investigation full of epiphanies, a narration of absolute vividness that could only be inspired by a passionate love, a book that transports us to a indissoluble past, more true than our own present.”
—Miguel Diaz Fernandez, author of “Vestigia”
“Anne R. Dick offers a compelling look at a giant of science fiction…a pleasure to read.”
Our small Episcopal church was half-filled for the memorial service that I’d arranged at the suggestion of Paul Williams. Nancy, Phil’s fourth wife, came, and Joan Simpson, who could have been his sixth wife, and Tessa’s sister (Tessa was his fifth wife). Kleo, Phil’s second wife, said she wouldn’t come, then tried to get a ride at the last minute but didn’t make it after all.
At the end of the service when Fr. Schofield said, “Into thy hands we commend thy servant, Philip K. Dick,” I felt my heart twist. “No, no,” I thought, “I can’t let Phil go.” I began asking questions I had put aside years ago. Why did Phil leave? Why didn’t he come back? If I’d been different, would he have left?
What were his relationships with other women like? Had any of them had the same kind of experience I’d had? Had he loved me, or had he been a colossal fake? After eighteen years, I began again pulling off the petals of that infinite daisy: He loves me…he loves me not....
I didn’t have any false pride to preserve anymore. I didn’t have to tiptoe around Phil’s touchiness, so I decided to find out. I started phoning, writing, and visiting all the people who had known Phil. I compiled so much information that I began to think of writing a book. I’d call it The Five Wives of Philip K. Dick. I gave up that idea when I couldn’t locate Phil’s first wife, Jeannette Marlin (Phil’s father, Edgar Dick, believed she was dead), and Tessa Busby Dick, his fifth wife, declined to be interviewed.
I spent the next two years interviewing wives, an extensive list of serious girlfriends, male friends, family members, psychiatrists, and lawyers. (Phil was always terrified that his ex-wives would get together and compare notes.) Other women friends of Phil’s—Joan Simpson, Kirsten Nelson, Kleo Mini, Nancy Hackett, Linda Levy, Mary Wilson, Betty Jo Rivers, “Sheila,” and “Cindy”—shared memories with me.
I had a lot of help from Phil. I researched when his works were written rather than when they were published and compiled a chronology. Then I read through the thirty-six science fiction novels and the 120 short stories in the sequence they were written. It was so fascinating to read Phil’s science fiction as a whole, an oeuvre (or “irve,” as my friend David Gill calls it) that I read through it twice, sometimes laughing out loud as Phil’s novels took me back to the events of our life in the early sixties. Those books were unbelievably revealing. In effect, Phil had made notes about our life together for me. His complete oeuvre was a surrealist autobiography. Reality and imagination flicker back and forth in his fiction as it did in his everyday life, Phil playing all the roles and predicting his own future.
Search for Philip K. Dick was the first biography of him to be completed.
The manuscript revealed a side of Phil that some of his friends and followers couldn’t accept. Besides loving Phil, some of them had also been well primed by Phil to believe a version of his life in which I had no credibility (to put it mildly), even though at the same time he was telling them he was being watched by the KGB, the FBI, and the CIA. (Some of them believed that, too.)
One of them, a dear young man, fiercely loyal to his late friend, threatened to sue me after he read my manuscript. A group of his young male followers supported his other biographers, all male, heartily. It’s interesting to me that the women who read my manuscript understood it immediately, but some men took a little longer.
I discovered many new aspects of Phil’s writing that I hadn’t perceived when, as his first reader during his Point Reyes period, I proofread his novels.
My goodness, the anti-heroines of the Point Reyes novels, more or less based on me, were always murderesses, adulteresses, and sometimes schizophrenic. In the books written at the end of our marriage, they also became drug addicts.
I don’t even take aspirin. Then there were the books with a theme of divorce and reconciliation, written while we were separating. I hadn’t read these until after Phil’s death. If I had read them in 1965, would our lives have turned out differently? We had to have bought the white Jaguar before Phil wrote We Can Build You, because that car was in the book. The ad in the Baywood Press that inspired us to buy a spinet piano was in that book also. We Can Build You told about our family’s trip to Disneyland and Phil’s fascination with the Lincoln robot there.
My children, now grown, were a great help in dating events: “That happened the year I was in third grade.” “That was the month I fell and chipped my tooth.” “That happened right after my birthday party, the one where the cake had yellow icing and seven white candles.”
When I learned about the later part of Phil’s life, I felt sad. I worried about chronicling it, even though Phil left similar information for biographers in his letters and other documents. At times, I felt that something must be terribly wrong with me that I had loved a person who was (to my way of thinking) involved in such a terrible life at one period. But he had also been my best friend as well as a good husband—he played the role beautifully for a while—and a good father to my children. He was lots of fun, too. And he was a writer.
I was a lifelong reader. I love writers.
Besides his books, there was the immense amount of material that had been written about him. His life and writing existed on so many levels that I couldn’t possibly cover what one critic called “the vast reality of Philip K. Dick.”
I have made no attempt to consider literary, political, sociological, or theological ideas. Phil’s voluminous letters are a huge research project in themselves.
Besides thirty-six science fiction novels and 120 short stories, Phil left nine unpublished literary manuscripts and a one-million-word theological rumination, The Exegesis. When I was writing this book in 1984, at least seven other books were being written about Phil. He’s been compared to Kafka, Dickens, Borges, and Blake. Blake? I was astonished. I hadn’t followed Phil’s career after our divorce (in fact I had ignored it) and was unaware of his great success.
Writing this book was like living with Phil again. I never met anyone else like this kind, charming, brilliant, modest, responsive man, a life enhancer, a joy to be around—but there was something else, something dark. There was a real Phil, but which one was it? When I think I know, that’s just when I lose the image. Did Phil change identities the way some people change their clothes?
He was isolated by his genius. No one, except years later Gregg Rickman (Phil’s chosen biographer, who was literally—and literarily—persecuted for his theory) saw how hard Phil had tried and how much he had to struggle with. It is amazing that Phil was able to produce so much excellent, innovative writing with his inner problems, whatever they were. He used those problems to write his novels!
If Phil were alive he would have loved my project and encouraged me. He would have invented all sorts of theories to support my picture of his life. Then he would have invented other theories just as plausible. Bending a few facts here and there, he would have rewoven the past to present a reality that would make him look better and better and me worse and worse, but the pyrotechnics of his mind would have been so remarkable that I couldn’t have helped but admire them. My advice to anyone married to a person like Phil (but there couldn’t be another!) is if there is no other solution, write a book.