Philip K. Dick built his career during the 1950s writing science fiction classics that are still in publication today. At the time, unfortunately, science fiction was even more firmly mired in the literary ghetto than it is today. Between 1950 and 1960, Dick wrote ten "mainstream" novels, none of which was published during his lifetime1. In 1960, Harcourt Brace rejected The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike, even though they had commissioned it. Dick went back to science fiction, writing The Man in the High Castle next.

There is nothing like the death of a great author to make a publisher sit up and take notice -- after Dick's death in 1982, publishing houses went searching for his unknown novels and grocery lists. In 1984, Dick's children allowed Teeth to be published by Marc V. Ziesing (ISBN 0-9612970-5-0) and later in the UK by Paladin Books.

The novel centers around two neighbors in Carquinez, a fictional2 Marin County town similar to Point Reyes Station, where Dick was living when he wrote the novel. Carquinez is a sleepy little town with a long history: The original town of Carquinez was a fishing village on the Pacific Coast, but when a new town with the same name was built on the other side of the Coast Range, the original Carquinez dwindled away to a few rotting shacks inhabited by atavistic diehards.

The postwar building boom began to attract development from nearby San Francisco. Realtor Leo Runcible saw big possibilites for Carquinez after buying a summer home there, and set up a realty office. Runcible's wife Janet assisted him for awhile, but quit suddenly and has since slipped into a fog of alcoholism. Runcible has a good business, selling homes to the newcomers moving up from San Francisco. But it's difficult get good land from the old-timers; they do business with the semi-retired realtor across town. Is it because he's Jewish? Runcible has certainly never been admitted to the Carquinez Dads' and Boys' Donkey Baseball club, but of course he's never applied.

Runcible's next-door neighbor Walt Dombrosio drives his Alfa Romeo back and forth to his job in San Francisco. Walt is a talented designer, in Norm Lausch's product design/advertising firm. He makes a good salary, but not enough to match the lifestyle his wife Sherry enjoyed while growing up back East. Sherry doesn't complain; she's more unhappy sitting around the house all day with little to do.

One day Walt Dombrosio invites his mechanic to come up from San Francisco for dinner. Runcible has a conniption when he sees a black man as Dombrosio's guest, fearing that it might lower property values. A heated argument with Dombrosio yields nothing. This probably contributes to Runcible's willingness to call the police when an intoxicated Dombrosio runs his car off the road shortly thereafter. Dombrosio's license is suspended, forcing Sherry to drive him to work and back. Sherry considers the ability to gallivant around San Francisco far better than being stuck into the house all day. But her decision to find a job at Lausch's firm doesn't sit well with Walt, leading to an argument that costs him his job. With Sherry now the breadwinner, it's not Walt's turn to sit around the house. One day, an intoxicated Janet Runcible tells Walt that Leo dropped the dime on him.

Soon thereafter, Leo Runcible and a local schoolteacher dig up a skull that appears to be Neanderthal. Considered impossible for the West Coast of North America, it would still be an astounding anthropologcal find if authenticated. Runcible sees this as a golden opportunity for bringing development to Carquinez, and since the skull was found on his property, it's also an opportunity for personal fame.

The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike can be considered something of a period piece, but is still interesting and challenging to read. It lays bare the social ills of the late 1950's, most of which persist to this day. Dombrosio and Runcible each feel their own positions in society's power structure being undermined, causing them to build their persecution complexes into mammoth edifices which drive the plot.

Dick considered Teeth to be the best of all his unpublished novels. Although it's a "mainstream" novel, it's decidedly "Dickian". Well-researched and grounded in the man's genius, the novel has his quintessential reality shifts, complex, delusional characters, and philosophical dialogue. Teeth has enough mental nutrition to make it worth acquiring through interlibrary loan, which is probably the only way you're going to be able to find it.


1Michael Bishop explores Dick's literary frustrations in the "what if?" novel The Secret Ascension (later published as Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas), another novel you should read if you can.

2Do not confuse this with the Carquinez Strait connecting the Sacramento River with San Francisco Bay, or the Carquinez Bridge carrying I-80 over the strait.

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