The tidy, All-American suburban neighborhood of the 1950’s is the setting for Philip K. Dick’s Time Out Of Joint. The story follows the bizarre life of Ragle Gumm, a professional puzzle solver. He lives with his sister Margo, brother-in-law Victor and nephew Sammy in their comfortable suburban home.
This world seems just a little TOO perfect and Ragle begins to question the basis of his reality. He begins to experience deja-vu like hallucinations. Sammy picks up cryptic radio signals and Ragle attends a Civil Defense meeting that triggers strong but vague memories. These are the first signs that something is amiss in this picture perfect America of the 50’s. As Ragle and Vic attempt to find meaning among these seemingly unrelated events, they discover a web of intrigue that stretches far beyond their own local reality.
Paranoia sets in when he realizes that everyone in town knows his name from his newspaper contest winnings. He says to himself upon being recognized by an anonymous cab driver:
“Here it was again, the projection of the paranoiac infantile personality: the infinite ego. Everyone knew of me, thinking about me.”
Ragle’s world doesn’t seem so normal as his mind creates every possible (and impossible!) scenario that could explain the illogical events occurring around him. When the universe ceases to obey the laws of time and nature, Ragle becomes determined to solve this case of reality disorder.
This is a very strong book by Dick. The plot and characters are creative and well-developed. The setting and situations leave lots to the reader’s imagination and employ strong elements of paranoia, schizophrenia and hallucination. The main character is placed in a universe where even the laws of time are controlled by an outside source. Written in 1959, Time Out Of Joint is a great example of Dick’s earlier work.
Warning: Reading the review below may give away the story if you haven’t read it.
I thoroughly enjoy the story and style of Time Out Of Joint. The set of circumstances in which Gumm finds himself are familiar from other PKD novels. The ending of this book nicely ties together the loose ends.
Gumm’s predicament reminds me of the theme of the movie The Truman Show. For motives unknown to both Truman Burbank and Ragle Gumm, they are living is a pre-fabricated world controlled by invisible humans. While the motives in The Truman Show are profits and entertainment, Ragle is “imprisoned” in the 1950’s for military reasons. His mathematical genius is harnessed by responding to his own insanity. This form of trickery by an outside “god” source makes a perfect setting for stories that have paranoid and delusional characters. It becomes a mystery of identity which must be solved.
Some of the elements of Time Out Of Joint may be overdone in Dick’s attempt to include more content to the story. The scene where The hot dog stand turns into a slip paper is an example. Dick is trying to emphasize the meaning of language and words in connection with real-life objects but it seems that the story may be stronger if Gumm’s world is void of divine metamorphoses. I also think that the characters of Mrs. Kesselman and Garrett are weird manifestations unnecessary to the plot development.
Despite these minor plot diversions, Time Out Of Joint is a very strong PKD novel. I am impressed and taken by the intricacies of the schizophrenic plot and the characters whose behavior seems believable under those circumstances. The ending explains the story in a surprising but appropriate manner. The story even has a hopeful closing note as Gumm decides to give up on the military exercises in order to reduce the threat of war.
There is an interesting forecast of the year 1998 expressed in Time Out Of Joint as well. A lunar war between the government and rebel settlers was a bold vision for Dick to predict in 1959. It just goes to show that Dick’s work is timeless.
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