We Can Build You, as a novel, is perhaps as schizophrenic as its characters are. It begins by introducing the narrator, Louis Rosen, co-owner of a not entirely legitimate distributor of organ and spinet pianos with Maury Rock aka Frauenzimmer. Maury's daughter, eighteen-year old Pris has recently been let out of a mental hospital on an out-patient basis: in this world radiation has not only caused physical deformities but mental ones and a large segment of the population functions (or doesn't, as the case may be) with one or both conditions. Pris has 'phrenia (the short form PKD uses to imply how common the disorder really is) and she is also a brilliantly creative mind. She comes up with a new idea for their business, since organs aren't selling so well anymore. She suggests they sell civil war simulacra and they begin with Edward M. Stanton, Abraham Lincoln's war secretary, before recreating Lincoln himself. So that's the beginning: Louis is as normal as they come, his brother Chip, on the other hand, has an upside-down face. Chip and their scholarly father run the organ factory that is failing to sell organs and they are convinced to begin the manufacture of simulacra instead. Pris has the idea of interesting the rich entrepreneur Sam K. Barrows in their product, and you expect that the book will all be about what nefarious purposes he plans for the simulacra.
But that's not what the book ends up really being about. Some might say that it becomes a love story, and I supposed that's partly true, but I think what the book really ends up doing, is showing that normal isn't necessarily normal, and how precarious sanity can really be. I have to admit I wasn't sure what was happening when the novel seemed to veer off course, but then I realized it was making me feel as crazy as the people in the book were: that's the power of PKD's writing at work. Luckily this time I manage to cling to the edge without toppling over.
4.5 stars for some of his best dialogue, and messing with my head. again. and for reminding me how powerful a mood stimulator classical music can be.