The picnic in Dick’s Eye in the Sky is characteristic of his style of mixing shifting planes of reality and illusion, laced with sardonic humor.
The picnic takes when the real world collides accidentally with an alternate world it’s the result of an accident in the “Big Eye, the Beaverton astronomic scientific facility (vaguely the Palomar Observatory). Though the picnic location is a hillside in Big Sur, California, eight picnickers are “really” in a hole in reality. It’s a perverse picnic at which all but one of the picnickers, Mrs. Edith Pritchett, feels as if they are in hell.
The picnic takes place in Pritchett’s mind. It’s problematic because she has an obsessive desire is to make everything “nice and neat.”
As Pritchett cleans up the world, what she disapproves of disappears without any distinction of importance. Willy-nilly, she erases the Cold War, Russia, cures for disease, love, sex, factories, and anything smelly. So when Charley McFeyffe lights a cigar, she makes it disappear, leaving him puffing empty air.
At her picnic, Pritchett’s conservative world view matches her selection of picnic fare: hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, cold cuts, smoked herring, potato salad, stewed apricots, and hot orange-blossom tea. But Pritchett is a crazy Victorian fundamentalist convinced that what she believes in all must believe.
To get around Pritchett’s biases, the picnickers goad Pritchett into making things not to her liking disappear. She’s eager to comply, all the while stuffing herself with the hard-boiled eggs.
She gets so enthusiastic the gray ocean turns pastel green, the wind becomes a glowing caress, and weeds disappear When Mrs. Pritchett erases fish, even a plate of smoked herring on their picnic cloth disappears. When David encourages Mrs. Pritchett to erase clothes, “Instantly, they were mother-naked. But it scarcely mattered: sex had long ago disappeared.”
Featured Image: Undated photograph (University Archives & Special Collections/Cal State Fullerton)
See Philip K. Dick. Eye in the Sky. New York: Macmillan, 1957