The first book in Philip K. Dick's defining trilogy (followed by The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer), VALIS is a disorienting and bleakly funny novel about a schizophrenic man named Horselover Fat (who just might also be known as Philip Dick); the hidden mysteries of Gnostic Christianity; and reality as revealed through a pink laser. VALIS is a theological detective story, in which God is both a missing person and the perpetrator of the ultimate crime.
Well, that was weird. If literature is a way for us to commune with the minds of others, I guess those others don’t necessarily need to be sane. In fact, Philip K. Dick (and his alter ego, Horselover Fat) are both pretty up front about the fact that he/they are not mentally well.
Despite his mental illness and years of drug use, Dick can write! VALIS seems to be his dissertation on his mental illness and it is a pretty lucid and rational analysis of his own state. It kept me reading for 271 pages despite the fact that hardly anything actually happens. A vast portion of the book happens only in the author’s head, thinking about his theories about nature of the world, religion, and life and musing on his personal visions. He reveals himself as a philosopher and a student of religion who has obsessively studied more texts that I ever knew existed.
Many people call this the master work of PKD. I still don’t know how I feel about that—it is certainly his manifesto. I find it interesting that he was repeatedly advised to “give up dope and stop trying to help other people.” I’ve never had the dope issue, but I do remember avoiding my own troubles by poking my nose into other people’s business—and like PKD’s therapists, I do not recommend this line of avoidance. Despite the fact that it is easier than tackling you own issues and gives you a feeling of virtue for “helping” others. Much better to tackle your problems head on and let others do the same.
I will take with me this truth from page 80: “Reality is that which when you stop believing in it, it doesn’t go away.”