The Wild Girls, by Ursula Le Guin

My Mother's Day present this year was The Wild Girls, by Ursula Le Guin (PM Press, 2011), which was, coincidentally, the book I was planning on getting my husband for Father's Day (I've said this before, but I like saying it--when we met, we each had the same book of Ursula's on our bedside tables, and it is in essence a book about creating strong, loving relationships-- Four Ways to Forgiveness. It was as if it were Meant).

So anyway, after he finished reading The Wild Girls, I sat down with it myself.

First up is the titular short story/novella. It is a story of a rigid society, slavery, ghosts, and gender relationships--classic Le Guin stuff. It is blunt, a flung gauntlet of a story, that brings people, and their place, to life while simultaneously forcing the reader to keep stepping out of the story, to question and think.

"As a reward for working," Nata corrected her, always gentle, never scolding. "The Sky Father made the City for his sons, the Crowns. And they reward good workers by letting them live in it. As our owners, Crowns and Roots, reward us for work and obedience by letting us live, and eat, and have shelter."

"Modh did not say, "But-"

"It was perfectly clear to her that it was a system of exchange, and that it was not fair exchange. She came from just far enough outside it to be able to look at it. And, being excluded from reciprocity, any slave can see the system with an undeluded eye But Modh did not know of any other system, any possibility of another system, which would have allowed her to say "But." (pp 29-30).

It might be too didactic for some readers, but her didacticism is something I have always treasured in Le Guin's writing. It is, after all, through reading books like hers that I started trying to say "But" myself.

Moving to lighter things, the reader is then treated to two essays, "Staying Awake While We Read" and "The Conversation of the Modest," both of which are wittily and intelligently trenchant, a small collection of poetry, and an interview.

The interview is the best part of the book!

For example:

Interviewer (Terry Bisson): "What have you got against Amazon?"

UKL: "Nothing, really, except profound moral disapproval of their aims and methods, and a simple loathing of corporate greed." (page 82)


Interviewer: "I'm working on the cover copy for this book right now. Is it Ok if I call our piece on modesty "the single greatest thing ever written on the subject"?"

UKL: "I think "the single finest, most perceptive, most gut-wrenchingly incandescent fucking piece of prose ever not written by somebody called Jonathan something" might be more precise." (page 91)

So anyway, thank you to my husband for this! (and now I have to find him a different book for Father's Day. I'm thinking Embassytown, by China Mieville, which Ursula liked very much)


  1. I love Ursula LeGuin. She is one of the few science fiction authors who tackles the big subjects in a thought-provoking way. She also shows a sense of how societies structure themselves which I usually find absent from most science fiction. LeGuin doesn't take our society, especially our corporate-controlled society. for granted. She understands that there are greater things in life than to just be a consumer of goods, and her writing reflects that. While she can definitely be didactic and sometimes a little overly intellectual, she's a writer whose point of view I intrinsically trust.

    I just recently reread “The Dispossessed”. Again, it's a little didactic, and I think her ideological view of human nature sometimes gets the best of her, but it's a great thought experiment. As science fiction, it makes you think about more than just technology; it makes you think about people.



  2. Me too, Ian! Ursula Le Guin is my favorite writer.


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