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Kindred ()

To me, one of the most instructive and disappointing aspects of the Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century was the relative absence of what we'll call genre fiction.  There were only two mysteries--The Postman Always Rings Twice (see Orrin's review) and The Maltese Falcon (see Orrin's review).  There were no Westerns.  And, except for the dystopic classics A Clockwork Orange (see Orrin's review), Brave New World (see Orrin's review),  1984 (see Orrin's review) and Animal Farm (see Orrin's review), there were no Science Fiction or Fantasy novels.    Now among others, this means that Raymond Chandler's Lew Archer series, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Frank Herbert's Dune were all left off of the list.  Never mind how far superior these books are to most of the dreck that did make the cut, what really stands out is the fact that high brow critics still fail to take authors seriously if they work in these mediums.

This is truly inexplicable.  It seems that these genres still bear an indelible stigma from the days of the pulp magazines.  The intelligentsia appear to be incapable of separating these often vital and fascinating stories from their humble beginnings.  In a more just world, Toni Morrison's Beloved (see Orrin's review) would be ignored because it simply isn't very good and Octavia Butler's Kindred would be celebrated, regardless of its time travel elements, because it is truly excellent.  The premise of this fine novel is that a modern black woman is thrown backwards in time whenever her white, slave-owning ancestor's life is threatened.  Beginning in his childhood she is repeatedly called upon to preserve him, that she might one day be born.  To a certain and disconcerting degree, she eventually becomes complicitous in the system of slavery and in this master's action of getting a slave with child.

Butler does not bother trying to explain the mechanics of time travel, nor does she seek some elaborate justification for why these events occur.  Instead, she simply utilizes this plot device to raise really troubling ethical questions and to give the reader an immediate experience of the horrifying legacy of slavery which so often seems quite remote.  This is, by any measure, a great and haunting book.


Grade: (A)


I tought the book was great

- Nakita fricks

- Nov-11-2003, 11:54