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The Choppy Waters of the purpose of Climate Fiction in "Weather"

The Medford Library Pages and Planet Book club switched to fiction this month as we explored climate challenges and solutions through "Weather" by Jenny Offill. This novel weaves the complexity of human emotion and real life challenges against the backdrop of climate anxiety. The fragmented writing style attempts to draw readers into the inner world of the protagonist as she grapples with personal crises amidst the looming specter of environmental catastrophe. With a keen eye for detail and a sharp wit about the reality of living in the 21st Century, Offill explores of how we navigate the stormy seas of uncertainty in an increasingly turbulent world.

This month's meeting was a perfect book club discussion as the room had lots of great interpretations of storylines and some strong reactions about the effectiveness (and enjoyability) of the book. Some felt that it left them more anxious and unsure with it's fragmented narrative style and inconclusive ending. Others, felt it spoke to their own internal struggles of trying to pay attention to global issues while also handling the complexities of their own personal lives. There were also some (me included) that fell somewhere in the middle, where they appreciated the short vignettes and snippets of dialogue showing the fragmented nature of contemporary life but who wished there had been a stronger message of hope or action. In other words, it was a great book for discussion about the role fiction plays in the discussion about climate change.

Fiction and Climate Change

The discussion about "Weather" and it's place in the genre of climate fiction was fascinating.

"Clifi" Definition

The term "cli-fi," short for "climate fiction," was coined by journalist Dan Bloom in 2008 to describe an emerging literary genre expressing concerns about climate change.

The central question our group began to ask when we realized how different the reading experience was for our members, was "what role does climate fiction have in providing solutions?" The resulting discussion was that the genre itself has diverted from it's original meaning, where there are certainly books that are written based in a future (near or otherwise) that detail the world as it has been impacted by climate change, most often for the worse. There are now books written and set currently which feature climate related issues or questions but that are not the central feature of the narrative. This is clearly because climate change concerns are no longer just a subject of the future narratives but here and living side-by-side with our current stories.

What Does "Weather" Tell Us About The Climate Debate?

I think ultimately that " Weather" explores the complexities and anxieties surrounding the climate debate in a modern framework. The worry that looking too deeply at an issue will take you deeper into a doom circle and away from solutions.

Here are some key aspects of the climate debate that "Weather" addresses:

  1. Personal Anxiety and Responsibility: The novel delves into the protagonist's personal anxiety about climate change and her struggle to reconcile her concern for the environment with the demands of everyday life.

  2. Interconnectedness of Environmental Issues: "Weather" highlights the interconnectedness of environmental issues, such as climate change, pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Through the protagonist's interactions with others and her observations of the world around her, the novel underscores the complexity of environmental challenges.

  3. Political and Social Responses: The novel touches upon political and social responses to climate change, including debates over policy measures, activism, and public awareness campaigns. It portrays characters who are engaged in various forms of environmental advocacy, from grassroots organizing to political lobbying, reflecting the diversity of perspectives and strategies within the climate debate.

  4. Emotional Impact: "Weather" explores the emotional toll of climate change on individuals and communities, including feelings of fear, grief, and hopelessness. The novel captures the psychological dimensions of the climate debate, depicting characters who grapple with existential questions and wrestle with their own mortality in the face of environmental uncertainty.

  5. Parenting in Planet Peril: The novel portrays Lizzie's intense anxiety and fear about the future of the planet and the well-being of her son, Eli. Like many parents, Lizzie grapples with the overwhelming sense of responsibility to protect her child from the impacts of climate change while feeling powerless to do so.

Overall, "Weather" offers a nuanced portrayal of the climate debate, highlighting its complexities, contradictions, and human dimensions. While it is not a didactic work of climate literature, it prompts readers to reflect on their own attitudes and responses to environmental issues and to consider the broader societal implications of climate change.

Want more discussion about "Weather" check out:

Next meeting is Wednesday, March 20th 7:00-8:30pm

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