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Literature / Time Out of Joint

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Ragle Gumm is a World War II veteran living with his sister, Margo, and her husband and son in an idyllic little town in The '50s. He makes his living as a newspaper puzzle champion, and spends his ample free time relaxing, enjoying his modest fame amongst the locals, and flirting with his neighbor's pretty wife.

Now if only he could stop hallucinating.

Ragle tries to buy a snack from a soft-drink stand, but the stand dissolves into thin air leaving behind a slip of paper that reads "SOFT-DRINK STAND." He rides on a bus, but sees the bus reduced to a mere framework and all the passengers disappear except for him and the driver. He digs around in some muddy ruins and finds a phone book full of disconnected numbers and a magazine featuring some movie star he's never heard of. When his brother-in-law has an unnerving episode of déjà vu in the bathroom, Ragle starts to wonder if the problem is not in his own head, but in the world around him.

Time Out of Joint is a typical trip from Philip K. Dick containing many of his trademarks: conspiracies, paranoia, science fiction, nuclear war, and a protagonist who can never be sure if what he's experiencing is real or not.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew: Intentional. Ragle's town is mash-up of pleasant memories from his childhood, regardless of whether they're period-accurate.
  • And You Thought It Was a Game: Every week, Ragle pours hours of work into solving the newspaper puzzle so that he can keep up his winning streak. In actuality, he's figuring out where the Lunar colonists' next missile will strike.
  • Broken Masquerade: It starts crumbling when various objects melt away in front of Ragle, leaving behind slips of paper with their names, so he thinks he's having a mental breakdown. Then he finds the phone book and magazines, seemingly from a parallel reality (who is that Marilyn Monroe the magazine sings praises of?). Finally turns out it's a Fake World, with Fake Memories for part of the cast (Margo, Vic, Junie, but not Bill or the newspaper editor - they're in on it), created to keep Ragle working on the "puzzle".
  • Civil War: There's an unspecified war looming over the story. Turns out, it's actually an on-going Lunar Revolution, and both sides want Ragle's predictive talents for themselves. He's chosen to go to the Moon, but Earth authorities have snatched him, brainwashed him and stuck him in a recreation of his childhood.
  • Closed Circle: The town. It takes Ragle two tries and help from his brother-in-law to escape.
  • Contrived Coincidence: When Ragle goes to the bus station and the Bar-B-Q, he ends up standing in lines that never progress forward. He suspects this is being orchestrated on purpose to stall him. He's right.
  • A Glitch in the Matrix: Ragle keeps seeing random objects dissolve into slips of paper with their names on them. Vic also has that odd moment in the bathroom, where he tries to pull the cord to turn on the light, except there is no cord there.
  • Government Conspiracy: The town was created and maintained by the military.
  • NEET: Ragle is somewhat older than the usual for this trope, but he lives in his (married) sister's house, is unemployed and makes his living by playing a game which is not really a game, making this a Subversion. He's having second thoughs about the aimlessness of his life, and gets more and more stressed with the game, as he feels pressurred to maintain the winning streak.
  • Settling the Frontier: The lunatics are colonists on the Moon.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Ragle's town, which turns out to be fake, created specifically for him, and surrounded by a somewhat postapocalyptic, and definitely war-torn world.
  • "Truman Show" Plot: A prototypical example. Ragle isn't a reality tv star, but he's still living in a fake suburban town, being perpetually watched by the people who put him there, and he starts to catch on in much the same way that Truman did.