Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. ★★★★
I’ve heard a lot about Parable of the Sower. I only narrowly missed out on reading it in high school — the freshmen English teachers began teaching it when I was a sophomore. I’ve also heard people say that it’s eerily accurate to the United States after November 2016. I’ll come straight out and say it: I was scared to read Parable of the Sower. Octavia Butler’s books are always intense, and I didn’t know if I had the emotional fortitude to deal with Parable of the Sower.
Lauren’s gated community is an island of safety in a sea of chaos. Her father is a minister and college professor who mostly works from home — venturing out beyond the gated walls is dangerous. A wrecked economy and exorbitant prices for food and water have left many people poor and desperate. To make matters worse, a new drug that compels its users to start fires is gaining in popularity. Lauren’s community may have walls, but they are far from wealthy. They are the remnants of the middle class, and they are struggling to get by. And Lauren knows that it can only get worse. Eventually, their walls will fail and the hoards of impoverished thieves and drug addicts will descend on them.
Part of what makes Parable of the Sower feel so real is it’s a post-apocalypse novel without an apocalyptic event. The government still exists — in fact, a new president has just been elected. But most people don’t bother to vote, and you have to bribe the police to investigate a murder. Even then they probably won’t turn up anything. There’s no comet, alien invasion, nuclear bomb, or viral outbreak. Just a slow and steady decline that started years before Lauren was born.
Lauren’s especially vulnerable thanks to her hyper-empathy symptom. If she perceives someone experiencing pain, she reacts as if she herself is in pain. The condition is entirely mental, and Lauren experiences no physical harm. However, it makes it very difficult for her to hurt others.
Oh, and since I haven’t yet mentioned it, Lauren’s founded a religion called Earthseed, the principal tenet of which is “God is change.” Lauren believes intensely in Earthseed, although the characters around her don’t always. Her entire goal in life is to establish a community around Earthseed, using it to make the world a better place. The narrative is interspersed with Lauren’s writings on Earthseed, which take the form of poems. To be honest, it did not take long for me to begin skipping these. It’s nice that Lauren has goals in life, but I don’t care about Earthseed.
I generally did like Lauren, even if she was a bit weird. If creating her own religion wasn’t enough, her love interest is a fifty-seven year old man, one year younger than her father. She’s eighteen. It was sort of making me wonder if she had daddy issues. Are eighteen year olds normally into men the age of their fathers? Actually, nobody answer this. I’d rather continue my life in peace.
Having finished Parable of the Sower, I was right about one thing — it’s dark. Dark dark. Like, there’s a brief mention in passing of a pregnant thirteen-year-old eating a human leg. That’s the sort of background this story is set against. For all that, it wasn’t as difficult as I’d feared. People kept making references to how eerily similar some of it is to what’s happening in US politics right now. I didn’t see much of it in Parable of the Sower… but when I started the sequel, Parable of Talents, I soon realized that I had the books mixed up. Parable of Talents is where a presidential candidate promises to make America great again. Yikes.
Parable of the Sower is doubtlessly ripe for a lot more thoughtful analysis than I go into here. If I ever reread the books, I’ll have to dig into them more for thematic material. As it stands, it was still a compelling but disturbing story of one girl who remains optimistic about the potential of community even in the worst of situations.
I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.