NESFA Members' Reviews

I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick

by Emmanuel Carrère

Picador, 2005 [1993], ISBN 0-312-42451-5 (Translation by Timothy Bent, c.2004)

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

This is in no sense a scholarly work—no footnotes, no bibliography, not even a "further reading" list. Emmaneul Carrère is an unabashed fan of Philip K. Dick who, having read everything there was to read, still wanted to know more about how Dick's mind worked. He pursued this quest through much of Dick's unpublished material and apparently interviews with those who knew him. (I say "apparently" because the lack of footnotes, while adding to readability, does detract from complete clarity about sources and research methods.) Nevertheless, Carrère has produced a fascinating book, and he and his translator, Timothy Brent, have made it a very readable one, too.

Carrère gives a reasonably full account of Dick's life, while assuming that his readers are those who have already read most or all of Dick's major works, and the earlier biographies. (Cautionary note: this means that, if you haven't read Dick's major works, you should beware of spoilers.) His goal is working out an understanding of his subject's mind from this wealth of material. To what extent did the traumas of Dick's childhood (the death of his twin sister when they were a few weeks old, his parents' divorce, his mother's own obsessions) contribute to his own instability and emotional problems, and to what extent were they merely the background against which his own personality oddities played out? How did his problems and his drug use affect his fiction? How much was the drug use the cause of his later problems, and how much was it an unguided attempt at self-medication? Carrère seems both clear-eyed and sympathetic in his descriptions of not only Philip Dick, but also his parents, wives, and friends. This is a highly readable and interesting book about a fascinating writer.


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