The authors’ original words do their work more justice than any book review I write, and when grouped together, the quotes become atmospheric of the state they are set in. I hope you enjoy this addition of a “Favorite Quotes” series to my Andrea Reads America coverage.
“Boone believes that a wave is God’s tangible message that all great things in life are free.”
“Hawaiians taught us to surf… we sent people over there with Bibles, and they sent guys back with boards. The Hawaiians sure got the shitty end of that stick.”
“‘Like, the moana was epic tasty this sesh and I slid over the ax of this gnarler and just foffed, totally shredded it, and I’m still amped from the ocean hit, so my bad, brah.'”
“He and Boone sit and look at the waves together. Boone doesn’t rush things. He knows his friend is working through it. And the ocean never gets boring – it’s always the same and always different.”
“There are days when that drive along the 101 is so beautiful, it will break your fucking heart. When you look out the window and the sun is painting masterpieces on the water…”
“Waves are smacking the pilings beneath Crystal Pier. The ocean feels heavy, swollen, pregnant with promise.”
“The universe is God’s self-portrait.”
“Still raining… Steady drizzle, and occasional heavy showers all day. All day. So different and beautiful. I’ve never felt so overwhelmed by water.”
“It’s hard to believe any household once had three cars, and gas fueled cars at that.”
“How is it that we had never established an outside meeting place – somewhere where the family could reunite after disaster.”
“I worked my way toward the lemon tree. When I reached it, heavy with little green lemons, I hunted for any with even a hint of paling, of yellow.”
“Kindness eases change.”
“So many people hoping for so much up there where it still rains every year, and an uneducated person might still get a job that pays in money instead of beans, water, potatoes, and maybe a floor to sleep on.”
“Water stations are dangerous places. People going in have money. People coming out have water. Which is as good as money.”
“Through the back door comes the smell of kelp and barnacles when the tide is out and the smell of salt and spray when the tide is in.”
“Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses…”
“The whole street rumbles and groans and screams and rattles while the silver rivers of fish pour in out of the boats and the boats rise higher and higher in the water until they are empty.”
“Lee’s mouth was full and benevolent and the flash of gold when he smiled was rich and warm.”
“Monterey was not a town to let dishonor come to a literary man.”
“The sun came up and shook the night chill out of the air the way you’d shake a rug.”
“If a man ordered a beer milk shake, he thought, he’d better do it in a town where he wasn’t known.”
“The new [hitchhikers] try to pay for their ride by being interesting.”
“Financial bitterness could not eat too deeply into Mack and the boys, for they were not mercantile men.”
“It was the hour of the pearl. Lee Chong brought his garbage cans out to the curb. The bouncer stood on the porch of the Bear Flag and scratched his stomach.”
“I’m sick of pretending everything. For once I’d like to have it real – just for once.”
“The nature of parties has been imperfectly studied.”
“The cops didn’t find anything. But the party was sitting in the dark giggling happily and drinking wine.”
After writing about my avoidance of dystopian fiction, and subsequently reading dystopia-lovers’ reasons for reading post-apocalyptic novels (e.g., to caution us against our gluttonous ways and to prepare ourselves for Armageddon), I decided to read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, a dystopian novel set in the years 2024-2027 in southern California. A recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, Butler was among the few African-American women writing science fiction in her time, and she was the first science fiction writer to be awarded the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award; if I was to attempt another post-apocalyptic novel, I wanted it to be one of hers.
In Parable of the Sower, there is not a clear indication of what has happened to produce the horrifying state of the US in the year 2025 – it hasn’t rained in southern California in years, nobody uses cars because fuel is prohibitively expensive, clean water is as precious as money, middle-class citizens live in walled communities and must arm themselves when they venture outside their walls, and a drug called pyro, which makes fires more enjoyable than sex, has metastasized in the outside world like a cancer – but the implication is that we consumed and cleared and polluted beyond a critical point, and chaos has ensued as once-civilized populations revert to the more animal nature of kill or be killed.
This world that Butler portrays is not unimaginable, especially in light of the 1992 L.A. riots that surely informed scenes in this book. As any good dystopian novel will do, Parable of the Sower made me think outside of my comfortable box, outside my regular assumptions of the middle-class world: we can currently leave our homes without guns; we have ready access to food, fuel, and water; we don’t have to know how to survive in the wilderness or travel hundreds of miles on foot to try to find a safe place to hide and settle. We don’t have to worry yet, not on an on-the-ground in-the-now way, about having used up our planet and its resources. It made me think about a world without clean water or transportation or police and government who protect and defend, a world where violent death is an ever present threat, even to the currently insulated middle-class America.
It is not a comfortable place to be, outside my cozy middle-class box, but it makes me think, if all of it were stripped away, would I be able to survive? If I couldn’t buy food at the grocery store, if clean water did not stream from my tap, if drug-ravaged hooligans burned down my neighborhood and then came in for the kill, would I despair and give up or would I, like heroine Lauren Olamina, learn how to defend myself, accept and embrace change, and band together with other survivors to plant a new community? The world Butler imagines in Parable of the Sower is not unrealistic; her prediction could easily happen if we continue to consume and pollute unchecked. The threat in the world right now is not immediate to me like it is to Lauren in Butler’s story, but it makes me want to get a little closer to the land nonetheless. Just in case.