Benjamin Parzybok’s new novel Sherwood Nation is the latest addition to what is now being called “climate lit.” Books with apocalyptic plots which once seemed so far off in some crazy future are now disturbingly within reach. Recent titles such as Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” and Eden Lepucki’s “California” seem plausible.
So what exactly is it these writers are trying to tell us? Clean up our act or live out one of their doomed narratives? I certainly do not want to end up on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I think we should listen to these writers.
Sherwood Nation has left the strongest impression on me recently, perhaps because its plotline involves class warfare, with fighting over distribution of precious resources, in this case water. Which segment of our population will receive the biggest slice of the pie (if not the whole pie) when the crap hits the fan? If you guessed that infamous one percent, you are correct.
Parzybok’s story begins with a twenty-something woman named Renee who will be the central hero of Sherwood Nation. She is a citizen of Portland (where this novel takes place), a young woman still in full possession of her idealism. We find her amidst a drought so severe that all water is being strictly rationed to all Portlandians. Lawns are turning brown, everyone has a vague stink from a lack of bathing, and of course, all are thirsty.
Renee begins to notice a trend in water trucks with large and most likely disproportional quantities of water heading to the wealthier neighborhoods of Portland. Renee takes matters into her own hands one day as she attempts to divert one of the suspicious water trucks en route while riding her bike into their path and causing a crash.
It’s not exactly a fair fight and Renee is banged up but still able to liberate the jugs of stranded water to the citizens at large. Her act takes on an air of symbolic magnitude and she is dubbed by her fellow citizens as “Maid Marian.” Almost overnight Renee’s life becomes legend and is changed forever.
Maid Marian soon creates a community within a community, including her own small army of “water carriers” to aid in fair and equitable distribution of water to all. Accordingly, she does not make friends with the local politicians nor the National Guard. Alliances are formed, feelings rise close to the surface, forcing Maid Marian’s following to secede from the city of Portland, thus giving birth to Sherwood Nation.
Parzybok fills his book with flesh and blood characters. There is Zach, the organizational maestro and boyfriend to Maid Marian, who struggles with her sudden rise to fame. There is the former drug lord whose transactions were overlooked by the city and is now a member of Maid Marians army, and finally, there is the mayor who lives with his boyfriend and whose only plan to save the city is to dig a trench to the Pacific Ocean. Add to that a cast of other locals and Maid Marian’s water carriers, and you have a colorful crew.
What follows is the clash of two community systems as water becomes scarcer every day. As battles wage, Maid Marian undergoes personal changes as she becomes more and more looked up to as the poster girl for this fight. She is responsible now, the head of the movement, no longer just an anonymous college girl, serving coffee at night.
I finished Parzybok’s book not really feeling as though I’d read a work of fiction but more like a finely orchestrated prophecy with believable characters and likely scenarios. I certainly haven’t looked at water the same way and probably won’t ever again. Read Parzybok’s novel and prepare for battle. We have been duly notified.