How have I never read Octavia Butler before? How may times did I see a copy of Parable of the Sower before I finally, finally picked it up last week? What cave have I been living in?
A sad, Octavia-Butlerless cave, apparently. If you're a fan of the future dystopia, this book is right the heck up your alley. It's not exactly apocalyptic--it's more like the whole country is now like the worst neighborhoods in the roughest cities. Middle class people put walls around their neighborhoods and grow as much of their own food as they can; most people don't live that well and have to steal and kill to survive.
In this violent world, Lauren Olamina is born with a genetic weakness--she feels other people's pain. When she sees people suffering, she feels it physically. She has also come to a conclusion about religion: God is change. Not just that the nature of God is to change, but God is change--controlling everything, implacable, but shapeable. She forms this concept of religion as she grows up in her safe but precarious neighborhood and thinks about what her future might hold.
The observation of living in Lauren's world is really the entirety of the book--there's no driving quest except to survive, which happens moment to moment. The religious and spiritual elements of the story are fascinating, and I actually wish there had been more depth to the question-and-answers that Lauren has with her friends about God and her new religion. I want to know more about how she defined God--really, I almost wanted her to start spouting parables.
So this is a story of details. Of characters--Lauren's practical yet idealistic father; her angry, violent brother; her friend in denial; any number of other characters she meets in her life. The author doesn't spare her characters at all, but she also doesn't get bogged down in their misery (I'm looking at you, This World We Live In) to the point where you can't see the deeper points--what it means to be human, to have hope, to plan for a future that seems a million miles away.
I wish I could flesh out more about what I loved about Parable, but it was so simple, so personal, that it's almost hard to talk about what happens. There are a few more significant aspects, but it's mostly just about how the characters live, and why. Somehow the book answers that question without ever seeming to ask it. I'm excited to read The Parable of the Talents, which follows it, and pretty much everything else by Butler, and I'm so sorry to find out that she passed away just a few years ago, far too young. I love discovering a new author, though, and I'm looking forward to rolling around in this work for a while.