There are some authors who continue to inspire long after their deaths. One such is Philip K. Dick. The fascination is such that scholars are prepared to write PhD theses on the interpretation of his work and argue about the meanings behind his concepts.
This novel, Gather Yourselves Together, was originally published in the USA in 1994 and appears to have been his first novel, even though only published well after his death in 1962. There is some argument as to whether it is his first attempt at a novel and if it was revised later. Nevertheless, it is an important volume for Dick scholars. Dick’s later novels can sometimes be laden with symbolism and although there is some here, it is a very readable book.
The setting is a version of China. An American company which ran a huge manufacturing complex is handing everything over to the new regime and shipping all personnel and much of its equipment out before the new owners arrive. Three people, seemingly chosen at random, are left behind to facilitate the actual handover. Carl is a shy youth, innocent in most respects and confused by being one of those left behind – no-one bothered to tell him. His natural puppyishness soon comes to the fore and he wants to explore, go into places he hasn’t been allowed to before. Verne is an older, experienced man who joined the company on order to leave difficulties behind. He didn’t expect one of his fellow exiles to be Barbara, a woman that he had once seduced. Immediately, this introduces a tension to situation that Carl doesn’t quite understand.
During the first part of this novel, the accommodations and compromises that the three have to make, are interspersed with passages illuminating the previous histories of Verne and Barbara. Carl’s, much less interesting background, is left until later.
The greater political picture is unimportant to the story, merely acting as a pretext for putting three characters into a bubble and watching them interact. As such, they could have been isolated anywhere – even a space ship or an alien planet. The latter part of the novel is the working out of the sexual tensions between them.
It is always easy to view a novel in hindsight, especially from a perspective long after it was written. The suggestion in the afterword (written by academic Dwight Brown) is that Dick was paralleling his own experiences in the relationships between characters.
The merit of publishing an early work such as this is to see the development of an author in context with later works. However, if this was touted as a debut novel in today’s climate it would have remained, as indeed this was, in the bottom drawer. This is probably for Dick completists and scholars only.