Suffering Yet?

In 2019, I wrote a series of five books whose titles were taken from the Bible, Chapter 19 of the Book of Matthew. If you went to Sunday School, you probably had the picture of Jesus on the cover of your lesson. It showed him with sheep and goats in the background, welcoming children. Here’s what Matthew, Chapter 19 says:

“But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

The last book borrows from Hinduism and from Hopi mythology in referencing their vision of the end of the word. It’s called Karma and the Fourth World.

The books chronologically depict the fate of the United States over the next decade. You might call it a fever dream; others dystopian. But as my friend Martha asked, “how can you call it dystopian if it’s actually happening?” Dystopian: an imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic.

“Typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic.” Yes, there are elements of both of those realities. But I did not create any scenario that hasn’t already happened or isn’t in the process of happening. Margaret Atwood said something similar about Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale – a prophecy we’re seeing beginning to play out now in Texas, relative to women and carrying babies – anyone’s babies – to term.

In my books, disintegration happens slowly over a period of five years or so in the latter part of this decade. One unusual man sees bad things happening – specifically to children because of the musings of a demagogue within chat rooms and social media. He steps up and tries to help, only to be manipulated by larger forces within and outside the government. That sets the spark that effectively destroys what we know as these ‘united’ states.

“So,” you ask, “How did you come to write this book?” Ask any author that, and they will labor to explain it to you. But in my experience, books write themselves. I just gave the story a little shove, and then ‘it’ was off to the races, detailing how one thing leads to another, and then..well, I won’t give away the ending, but everything that happens is not only logical, but probable. Ask Martha.

“OK,” you say, getting a little frustrated with me. “WHY did you write this book?” Are you some kind of ‘Oracle Jones’, soothsaying into the future? I didn’t think so at the time. Trust me, nobody is more freaked out than me when the things in that book start to materialize. Now, I did not predict a pandemic until much later in the story. But that’s secondary to the point. The entirety of the series is about the breakdown of order in our society.

Most books from this genre start with what happens after the ‘end’, and do a poor job of detailing how we got there. I always found that rather annoying. Nuclear war; some kind of solar flare, climate change, even zombies (how did they BECOME zombies?) usually start the story. But I start with an ordinary family on an ordinary day contemplating the unthinkable because of one thing: fear. FEAR. Say it again, y’all: fear.

It seems like these days we have a lot to fear, but elements from organized and social media like to exploit that emotion – for ratings or some other kind of gratification. This has led to the worsening of tribalization and alienation: failure to trust one another or our institutions. We certainly have seen that in spades relative to Covid, the election, the economy. Fear of dying; fear that ‘the wrong team’ won, fear of destitution: but the greatest fear of these is another: fear of the unknown. Fear of losing control over our lives. The frustration of seeing a gallon of gas increase in cost by a third in just a few months. My children may have to move because their rent will increase by 50% when they renew their lease. This isn’t ordinary inflation, in my opinion. It’s the end of the era of low inflation. Hate to take credit for it, but I’ve been predicting that for the past ten was inevitable..too many dollars chasing too few goods.

So am I telling you all this just to hype my book? Maybe – partially – but there’s more, as infomercials always say. In some strange way, I take comfort in the supposition that this inchoate fear will no longer be undefined by the end of the decade. It will be realized in a very new reality. At least we’ll know where we stand then.

Oh, by the way, I’m working on a sequel. It’s too early to talk about – I’ve just written the first book and halfway through the second in what will likely be a series of just three this time. So my point is: life will go on. Differently, with a whole different set of issues than what we have to deal with now. But it will go on. And the things we worry about now will seem trivial then. You might not, but I take solace from that fact.

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