Kindred, Octavia Butler

Well, hmph.

Well, not really hmph.  I sort of take back my hmph.  It’s that expectations/reality gap again – I should just stop reading positive reviews of books.  If only there were some way of deciding what books to read without forming any expectations at all.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  But there are just some things that cause my expectations to become high, such as – let me think – okay, such as stories about children who go away to live with relatives/at a boarding school/with a bunch of strangers, and they have adventures.  Or stories with Catholic orphans.  Or stories about people with literary obsessions of some sort.  Or, relevant point here, time travel stories.  I’m an absolute sucker for time travel stories.  (Have you read Edward Ormondroyd’s Time at the Top?  You should, if you haven’t.  She travels through time USING ONLY AN ELEVATOR.  The sequel, All in Good Time, is very good too, as is the unrelated but charming David and the Phoenix.)

Anyway, I read so many nice things about Kindred, and although I definitely enjoyed it, and became very absorbed in it, and appreciated how Octavia Butler put the end at the beginning, for my convenience – in spite of all these things, I just thought it was going to be more thought-provoking than it was.  It’s all about a woman called Dana who starts traveling through time – inexplicably, unexpectedly – to save the life of one of her ancestors, a boy called Rufus who is a slaveholder.  And the question is, should Dana carry on saving his life so he can continue taking advantage of one of his slaves, Alice, and eventually produce Dana’s multi-great grandmother Hagar?  (She does.  Obviously.)

I am bothered by this kind of story.  History essentially seems elastic to me.  Like, say Marty didn’t manage to hook his parents up, and he never got born?  If he never got born, then he never travelled back in time, and he never saved his father from getting hit by his mother’s father’s car.  I can accept that he changed their outcomes, but I do not see how it is even remotely possible that he could negate his own existence.  It just couldn’t ever work.  The actual fact of time travel, of course, is totally plausible.

Anyway, I enjoyed Kindred.  I just didn’t love it.  (Spoilers, sort of.)  The ending seemed like a copout – the slave girl, Alice, tidily commits suicide, leaving Rufus free to attack Dana in a griefy haze, allowing Dana to finally kill his pathetic ass.  Plus, when she was back safe and sound with her husband, the story just ended BAM, on a note of “Well, hey, we’re glad that’s over.”  It just wasn’t a terribly reflective book.

  • It sounds rather confusing. I’ve read a few of her books, and they were kind of strange. Parable, I think, and the Sower. Are you familiar with those?

  • jennysbooks

    It wasn’t terribly confusing – no, I haven’t read anything else by her. I was planning to, but now I’m not sure if I’m going to bother. How were her other books?

  • They were interesting. It’s been over five years since I read them, so I’d have to open one up to refresh my memory.

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