In this lyrical and moving novel, Philip K. Dick intertwines the story of a toxic love affair with one about sentient robots, and unflinchingly views it all through the prism of mental illness - which spares neither human nor robot. The end result is one of Dick's most quietly powerful works. When Louis Rosen's electronic-organ company builds a pitch-perfect robotic replica of Abraham Lincoln, the firm is pulled into the orbit of a shady businessman, who is looking to use Lincoln for his own profit. Meanwhile, Rosen seeks Lincoln's advice as he woos a woman incapable of understanding human emotions - someone who may be even more robotic than Lincoln's replica.
©1979 Philip K. Dick (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
Author & Reviewer
We Can Build You follows Dick's fascination with mental illness and what it is to be human, culminating in a remarkably good book that unfortunately loses its narrative theme once too many times to be considered a classic.
The story concerns Louis Rosen, a piano salesman, as he embarks on a joint venture with his business partner in recreating life like simulacra modelled after American civil war icons. During this he falls in love with his partners schizophrenic daughter and slowly tumbles down the rabbit hole into mental illness himself.
Although linked to Dick's novels of the same period 'Clans of the Alphane Moon' and 'The Simulacra', for me this work felt closer to his final novel 'The Transmigration of Timothy Archer'. Told from the first person, we see Rosen's attempts and failures at life and work, and his slow mental decline all told from the matter of fact and simple writing Dick is so well known for.
The problem with We Can Build You is that the main crux of the story, the building of a Abraham Lincoln simulacrum, gets overshadowed by the schizophrenia. An obvious way of portraying life's difficulties with the illness, but as a result lacks the mystery and adventure Dick can do so well.
If you are a fan of Dick's works then this will entertain and enthral you, as it covers so many of his themes. However the strong subject matter and disregard for the story's central narrative may turn some away.
The narration by Dan John Miller is perfect and truly brings the novel to life.
A five star by itself. In comparison to other Philip K. Dick works; an eight out of ten.
"Simulacra for me & simulacra for you."
“Hell,' I said, 'love is an American cult. We take it too seriously; it's practically a national religion.”
― Philip K. Dick, We Can Build You
Is this a PKD novel? Does it contain?
1. Madness? Yes.
2. Paranoia? Yes.
3. Simulacra? Yes.
4. Hallucinations? Yes.
5. Funky inventions? Yes.
6. Metaphysical explorations of what it means to be alive? Hell yes.
7. Loneliness? Yes.
8. Theology? Not so much.
9. A Fascist-type government? Not in this one.
10. A Large Omnipresent Industry? Yes.
11. Unreliable narrator? Yes.
12. Life on another planet? Yes.
13. A Murder? Yes.
14. A US President? Yes.
15. Has it been made into a movie? Not that I'm aware of.
This novel scores 12/15 on the PKD meter, and most certainly is a work of PKD.
The aspect of PKD that makes his novels work for me, I've recently decided, is their ability to span an almost base-level of human existence; the greasy hair, wrinkled clothes-level but link it directly to some metaphysical otherworldliness. He does this not only through his exploration of big themes and ideas, but also through clever beginnings. I love the idea that the company that starts making simulacra in this novel was a small, Western electronic organ company that is trying to schlep its organs to various people using sleazy sales practices.
Because of a changing economy, they arrive at the idea of constructing a simulacra of both Edwin M. Stanton AND Abraham Lincoln. Genius. Anyway, the simulacrum idea is the catalyst that Dick uses to explore his often examined ideas about what it means to be alive, human and to love. I adore that both Lincoln and Stanton appear both just as alive and probably more rational than most of the humans they are interacting with. I love that Lincoln ends up giving relationship advice to the narrator (who happens to be in love with a woman who today would out spectrum Sheldon Cooper). Anyway, it was good, solid PKD. Not a place to start, but if you find yourself on a PKD tear, not a bad book to drive through.
I thought Phillip K. Dick was a better writer. This book did not age well. Not at all. Pass on this. Narration isn't too great either.
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