Confessions of a Crap Artist
by Philip K. Dick
The complete title, as indicated only on the inside title page, is Confessions of a Crap Artist; by Jack Isidore (of Seville, Calif.) : A Chronicle of Verified Scientific Fact.
This is one of Dick's little-known works of pure fiction, that is to say, with no elements of science fiction. There may be a reason why this novel has been quietly disregarded: this is a depressing, unenlightening book. Its primary redeeming value is the sparkling clarity and remarkable realness with which he renders his sick, tortured characters. If you're into that kind of thing.
The plot revolves around Jack Isidore (who some of you may remember is the name of a similar character in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) who moves to rural California to live with his sister, Fay Hume, and her husband, Charlie. Charlie is relocated to a distant hospital after a disabling heart attack, and Fay begins a manipulative affair with a married neighbor, Nate. Jack observes.
Jack is the crap artist of the title. He has many odd views that could be most charitably described as superstitious, including that the Japanese are closely related to apes, that the Earth is hollow, and that the world will be ending Real Soon Now.
The story is told from several different viewpoints, featuring at least one chapter from the point of view of each of the major characters. This format doesn't particularly reduce the monotony of watching marriages dissolve. Although realistic and compelling, the interactions between Fay, Charlie, Nate, and his wife never really rise above soap opera melodrama. The supposed objectivity of Jack add some interesting perspective, but his influence wanes in the latter part of the book, and the narrative suffers for it.
Fay and Charlie, and, eventually, Nate, are thoroughly repuslive characters. Charlie is an abusive husband, an ignorant slob, an emotionally detached father and husband. Fay is a selfish, manipulative woman, disinterested mother, and an unstable shrew. Her efforts eventually "corrupt" Nate and in turn ruin his marriage as well, as he becomes infected with her bizarre ideas on appropriate relationships.
One of the humorous sections of the book occurs when Jack attempts to communicate to the hospitalized Charlie his wife's affair with Nate. Distressed by Charlie's apparent lack of concern, but what the reader recognizes as just contained frustration, Jack decides to make his portrayal of Fay's affair more "vivid" by rendering it in the form of a pulp novel, complete with graphic, fictionalized accounts of seduction. Charlie is not amused.
If this book has a point, I think it is to show the variety of forms that evil can take. Maybe "evil" is too strong a word. Jack, for all his failings as a human being, for all his gullibility, his superstition, his bigotry, his fundamental inability to connect with other people, is held up to contrast with the more insidious, more publicly acceptable, but equally repulsive, motions of Fay and Charlie Hume.
This book reminds me in many ways of the posthumously publised and equally bleak Puttering About in a Small Land which may have served as a first draft. Puttering About in a Small Land, too, dealt with marital difficulties, although the character portraits and narrative techniques weren't quite as well developed. That book also had a female character held in a particularly negative light, to a degree almost reminiscent of the portrayal of some women in Dick's semi-autobiographical VALIS trilogy.
Inspried the French movie Confessions d'un Barjo, also known simply as Barjo.