“The world is full of painful stories. Sometimes it seems as though there aren’t any other kind and yet I found myself thinking how beautiful that glint of water was through the trees.”
Published in 1993 and set in the 2020s, its startling how closely the country in Octavia Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower mirrors the United States we find ourselves in today. Following an unnamed catastrophe, the main character – a teenage girl named Lauren – watches society slowly collapse around her. Lauren and her community try to retain a sense of normalcy against the backdrop of several intersecting crises – political instability (the president in the book eerily uses the phrase “Make America Great Again”), climate change, increasing violence, tribalism, and inequality.
I read this in 2018 with a book club. Sitting on the floor of my friend’s group house in Riverdale Park, Maryland we had great discussions about mutual aid, and how we could take care of our families and each other if the systems in our society were to stop functioning. After reading the book, some of us spent the weekend at a survivalist camp in West Virginia. On our second night, I got lost in the pitch black woods trying to find my way back to our tent.
One of the central themes in the book is that the guiding force in the universe is change. Butler writes that “God is change”. Accepting this gives Lauren the strength to adapt and persevere. Before she accepted change, she tried to ignore it. Then the chaos out beyond the walls of her community made its way inside. Its a reminder that we can’t wish the bad things away. They can and will get worse. Octavia Butler illustrates this so masterfully. If you haven’t read it, its an amazing novel that speaks to this moment.