Read: Kindred by Octavia Butler
Drinking: Lemon Lift, Bigelow
Butler’s first novel, Kindred, explores many of the themes that her later works tackle: slavery, free choice and the roles of women as lovers, mothers and caretakers throughout time. Protagonist Dana is mysteriously drawn repeatedly to a plantation in the South of the mid-1800s. The problem: Dana is a thoroughly modern African-American woman and her connection is with the son of the plantation owner. Further tension results from Dana’s inability to control her travels. At one point, Dana’s (White) husband, Kevin, is taken with her into the past and then stuck when she returns to the present.
Using the framework of time travel to the slavery period is a way for Butler to analyze the roles of women and slaves from a modern perspective. Dana, as the modern reader’s avatar, is appalled not only by the treatment she receives as a black woman but also at how easily she assimilates to the slavery thinking despite her best efforts. It’s part Stockholm syndrome, part survival. The treatment is brutal:she is repeatedly beaten, experiences rape attempts by both men she knows and men she does not, and at one point is forced to work in the field picking cotton.
Although ultimately Dana is able to escape the past, she retains physical and emotional scars of her experience. Butler leaves the reader wondering what marks were left on her relationship with Kevin and how she will recover and live out her life.