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Book Review: In Milton Lumky Territory by Philip K. Dick

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Philip K Dick is recognised as being one of the key figures in science fiction; a legend who has multiple works adapted to the screen. The sole work of his that is not science fiction is this charming little title, published only after his death. It concerns life in the 1950s, and it’s a comedy.

In Milton Lumky Territory is about Bruce (Skip) Stevens and his desire to make a buck. By taking this vantage point, it seems that our author seeks to explore our 20th-century, capitalist, culture. Cars are of interest to plenty of people and petrol is not expensive. Bruce doesn’t really care when he runs over animals because it’s his destination that is important.

So what are these people like? Character is developed in how they respond to circumstances, and it is interesting how women are portrayed, especially since the setting is pre-feminism. Peg, for instance, has a history of sleeping with Bruce outside of marriage, but no one is open to admitting such relations take place.

In contrast, Susan, spends the story longing to play wife and be mother to her daughter Taffy, but by the end she realises the only way for things to work out is if she takes charge of the situation by going over Bruce’s head in handling their bad choices.

This would appear to suggest that women, unlike in our common understanding of history, have not simply been dominated by men. According to John Hirst in Sense and Nonsense in Australian History, the reason Australian women received the vote before their American counterparts was not because they wanted to be a part of the public sphere and mounted pressure for it, but rather because they did not pose a threat to the predominantly male-orientated society. An extra vote meant an extra vote for the family, not an attempt to topple the status quo.

When one takes a good look at films set in the 1950s, one also notices a certain respect that women have in their society. A film like Good Night and Good Luck, or LA Confidential you often notice that women are usually respected, but that they need to keep up appearances. Curiously, men and women already appear to make decisions with each other, and feminism doesn’t appear to have changed that much. When you look to a book like Diary of A Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner, you notice that, post-liberation, all that has changed is the freedom of women to act like men.

In Milton Lumky Territory also explores the nature of keeping up appearances. Everyone attempts to maintain a certain presentation. Whether it’s Milt trying to be a good guy, Susan wanting to withdraw from the working world, or Bruce trying to be a good businessman. This is the symptom of a culture that is obsessed with success. As the story ends, we discover that Bruce is happiest when he does not need to prove himself.

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