Taverner succeeds for a while, meeting Kathy who is an identity forger and stool pigeon who psychotically believes that the police are forcing her to fink by holding her boyfriend in a gulag in Alaska (he actually died in a car accident). Kathy also has a mental problem where she imagines people to be celebrities and she often imagines these celebrities are stalking her. At first I read this as one of Dick’s normal blind alleys, but in this novel he manages to tie this idea back into the main plot.
Given that the two previously published novels by Dick, “We Can Build You” and “Our Friends From Frolix 8,” were such wrecks, it’s a surprising delight to read “Flow My Tears.” The tone and style of this novel is somewhat of a departure for Dick. In some ways it harkens back to “The Man in the High Castle” where Dick wrote a mature novel set in a science-fiction framework. But he also seems to have nearly mastered the habit of putting dreams and intuitive events into the novel without derailing the plot. I sawy "nearly" because there are still elements of this. For example, the part where Felix Buckman dreams that Jason Taverner has been killed was pulled from a vivid dream:
“In the writing of Flow My Tears, back in 1970, there was one unusual event which I realized at the time was not ordinary, was not a part of the regular writing process. I had a dream one night, an especially vivid dream. And when I awoke I found myself under the compulsion—the absolute necessity—of getting the dream into the text of the novel precisely as I had dreamed it. In getting the dream exactly right, I had to do eleven drafts of the final part of the manuscript, until I was satisfied. “
Additionally, the odd sequence at the end, where Buckman meets a man at a gas station and hugs him, has the feeling of more intuition than logic. In his essay “How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later” Dick attempts to explain that this passage is part of his anamnesis, his “loss of forgetfulness” that means he’s channeling the truth into his novel. Fortunately, in “Flow My Tears” these passages don’t detract from the plot or the characters, and they even add slightly to the surreality of the story.
When the police are trying to determine Taverner’s true identity they give him a test. To me the test feels similar to the Voigt-Kampff tests in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.”
After the recording of the footprint he spoke the sentence, "Down goes the right hut and ate a put object beside his horse." That took care of the voiceprint. After that, again seated, he allowed terminals to be placed here and there on his head; the machine cranked out three feet of scribbled-on paper, and that was that. That was the electrocardiogram. It ended the tests.I wondered if the sentence was a from an actual psychological test, but I couldn’t find any references to it.
Dick has a running theme of crowded, oppressive apartment buildings. In “Flow My Tears,” however, Taverner is brought to Felix and Alys’s wonderful, spacious mansion. They have filled the house with collections of all sorts of interesting nick-knacks like rare stamps, coins, bondage cartoons and pornographic snuffboxes. Alys and Felix are like Virgil Ackerman in “Now Wait for Last Year,” collecting bits of esoteric ephemera in order to build a solid world around them. I have to wonder, does PKD scorn the empty, expansive mansion, seeing it like AM-WEB in “Martian Time-Slip” as a place of death? But, I also gather from his books that he seems to like collecting these bits of esoteric information, so he, too, is a collector. I wonder if he’d find it ironic that collectors are now paying more for first edition copies of books that he wrote, than he was paid to originally write them?
So far I’ve written reviews of nearly thirty PKD books without using the word solipsism. It’s a word from the blurb on the back of my DAW paperback. The definition is “the theory or view that the self is the only reality.” Other reviewers have called many of PKD’s books solipsistic. In “Flow My Tears” he uses science fiction once again to effectively ask these questions: What is life before you? After you? Without you? Everyone is the star of their own world, their own narrative, but Dick brings this idea to the forefront by creating a character who’s a major celebrity, and then bringing him to complete anonymity. The result is a fascinating novel, and an intriguing exploration of Dick’s personal philosophy of solipsism.
From the 1974 DAW paperback edition:
Jason Taverner woke up one morning to find himself completely unknown. The night before he had been the top-rated television star with millions of devoted watchers. The next day he was just an unidentified walking object, whose face nobody recognized, of whom no one had heard, and without the I.D. papers required in that near future.
When he finally found a man who would agree to counterfeiting such cards for him, that man turned out to be a police informer. And then Taverner found out not only what it was like to be a nobody but also to be hunted by the whole apparatus of society.
It was obvious that in some way Taverner had become the pea in some sort of cosmic shell game -- but how? And why?
Philip K Dick takes the reader on a walking tour of solipsism’s scariest margin in his latest novel about the age we are already half into.