Always Coming Home

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In some ways, this book seems to represent a major departure in the fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin, whose many works of science fiction and fantasy have established her as one of the major contemporary writers in those genres. Unlike most of her earlier works, ALWAYS COMING HOME is not set on a distant planet or in an enchanted land, nor are there exotic aliens or wizards featured in her cast of characters.

In many other ways, however, as the title suggests, ALWAYS COMING HOME circles back to develop many of the earlier threads of Le Guin’s life and art. Her father was an anthropologist, and her mother a nonfiction writer whose best-known work, ISHI, focused on the last surviving member of a California Indian tribe. In turn, Le Guin brings the methods of anthropology to bear in fully imagining the tribal cultures which might inhabit California once again in a postindustrial future.

Similarly, as in many of her earlier novels, Le Guin structures her narrative around a journey which involves her protagonist in two contrasting cultures. For the first time, however, her central figure here is a woman, Stone Telling, who is somewhat of an outsider in both cultures because of her mixed parentage. Her mother is of the Kesh--an egalitarian, agrarian, peace-loving culture which centers on celebrations of nature and a philosophy of generous giving. Her father, however, is a roving warrior from the Dayao or Condor culture--a rigidly patriarchal,...

(The entire section is 453 words.)