Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

On Kindred

I'm slowly making my way through Octavia Butler's novels, still. I had originally planned to write a story which contained a critical review of all her work, but as the story grew in my head, I realised that mash of forms didn't make a very interesting piece, and so now I've shuffled into something else.*

I don't know how much Butler anyone reading this has read, but feel free to chime in if you got an opinion. I'd be surprised if a lot of Australians do, since she's not really published here, and a lot of her themes and concerns feel very American, thus giving her a very culturally specific readership. Kindred, perhaps her most well known of books in the States (at least, from what I understand, I might be wrong) is concerned with racial elements that link to American history, and that does tend to limit her audience, I think; in comparison, the racial concerns she explores in Parable of the Sower are more universal, and reach a larger audience, even though it is the less complex of the two books. In Kindred, Butler takes her narrator, and dumps her back in time to rescue a white slave owner who may, or may not, be her great great great grandfather. She is pulled whenever Rufus--the white guy--reaches a point of life threatening danger, and from this device, uses the situation to explore slave conditions.

It's an early book, but Butler's deceptively simple language is there, as are the emotions she wishes to convey, which would resonate stronger as she wrote more. What's good to see, however, is how murky she's willing to be, even early on in her work. There's no hero, no villain. It might seem strange to say this, but if you compare to, say Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, which explores different aspects of racial portrayals, you might find it a bit more interesting. In Rushdie's book, he picks a side to sit on, and he doesn't have a lot of understanding for the other. Butler, while she does pick a side--slave ownership is never supported--she doesn't make villains out of her characters, and it is that concept, which sits at the centre of the book, that gives it something that another book with a similar concept might not have. It's a very admirable thing, that greyness, that ability to write everyone sympathetically, that I think was one of the most interesting about Butler, but others could go differently on it.

Anyhow, I'm currently reading the Wild Seed series, which I had not read before. I'm not exactly sure I'd recommend the first book to anyone, mind you, and I miss that simple honest voice, but it is starting to pick up, which is nice.

* In case you're curious, the story is still related to Butler's work. It just doesn't have the critical piece, and the story has become more complex, and layered, and difficult, which is awesome.


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