cover image The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick

The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick

Kyle Arnold. Oxford Univ., $19.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-1997-4325-4

Psychologist Arnold tries to do many things at once in this “psychobiography” of SF author Philip K. Dick. He accomplishes some, but falls short on others. Arnold analyzes key events and patterns in his subject’s life, using Dick’s stories to illustrate the points he makes about the author’s mental state at the time they were written. Dick’s “origin story” begins with the death of his twin sister, Jane, in infancy, and continues with his mother’s resentment of Dick for surviving. Arnold argues that the many traumas Dick experienced, beginning with parental neglect, contributed to his drug addictions, five troubled marriages, and breaks with reality, notably the visions he referred to collectively as “2-3-74.” Refuting the diagnosis most commonly ascribed to Dick—schizophrenia—Arnold describes the author’s mental illnesses one by one, including anorexia, paranoia, severe anxiety, vivid hallucinations, suicidal tendencies, and violent outbursts followed by amnesia. This unique take on a beloved writer has its flaws—for example, the passages connecting Dick’s life to his fiction can feel like an afterthought—but its repetitive quality ultimately feels apt, capturing the cyclical nature of addiction and mental illness. (June)