Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home (Author’s Expanded Edition)

The collection of material relating to a respected novel can be difficult, but the Library of America usually produces excellent results. Always Coming Home: Author’s Expanded Edition brings together much material relating to the title story by Ursula Le Guin. Always Coming Home relates the life of woman who has taking that name, surrounded and largely eclipsed by the writings and examinations by a scholar named Pandora of the Kesh people. The woman examines their culture in great detail, focusing on Traditions, literature, as well as everything from zoology down to the geography of the land. The culture depicted is influenced heavily and obviously by a few of Native American culture, and exists after some strange catastrophe apocalyptic results. The exact nature of this catastrophe is not elaborated on, although the mentions of radiation and genetic damage suggest something nuclear in nature. This tale is more than anything else of peculiar epistolary novel giving the point of view of an anthropologist looking at a somewhat antiquated society that is still in the distant future of our own World. It’s a very detailed and thought out setting, in the epistolary structure justifies showing the author’s work far more than many traditional narratives might.

In addition to the titular novel, there is the section titled “Pandora Visits Take Cash and Comes Back With New Texts” which includes the rest of a fictional novel mentioned in the book as well as additional meditations, songs, and a section on the fictional language of Kesh and its syntax. 

On top of this addition, is a large collection of related material, both additional fiction and essays by the author explaining her thought process in writing Always Coming Home. Of these pieces “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” is of obvious use, reflecting the author’s philosophy of writing more than strictly an examination of the novel it is bound with. For a work obviously focused on the novel a better point of view comes from “The. Making of Always Coming Home” which Della was in comparative detail into the exact material claims. This is a transcription of an interview given at the 19th missile corded conference. In addition to providing answers to questions about the text for a reader the fact that this was originally a question answer session means that the reader experiences the author’s more casual voice.

The section “Living on the Coast, Energy, and Dancing” starts with a disturbing focus on prepubescent sex. It is strange, and slightly out of place and uncomfortable in light of Or Guin being of the same era as Marion Zimmer Bradley, but brief and well intentioned.  The text as a whole is, of course, going to vary in interest depending on one’s enjoyment of particular areas of anthropology, literature, and research. Very dry styles of explanation are reproduced, along with third person storytelling and very personal memoirs. While the storytelling is extremely high-quality, it is hard to ignore the fact that some elements will not be able to draw some individuals attention.

This collection is adorned on the cover in a similar manner to most library of America editions with a red white and blue stripe against a photograph of the author and listing of the contents. It’s an effective cover, and the fact that Le Guin is holding the first edition of the same book years earlier in her lap is a very nice touch.  That said this volume is filled with illustrations, including an end to paper illustration by Patrick H. Whynne. It’s a quiet but effective image of a woman with a resemblance to Le Guin looking over a valley.

Overall Always Coming Home is at an impressive achievement in storytelling, and World building. It is a staple of future history, and the work of obvious influence. And this is possibly the most thorough and dedicated interpretation of the texts assembled, included many related pieces throughout. I can highly recommend this volume, particularly it to those with any interest in the work of Ursula K. Le Guin.

(Library of America, 2019)

About Warner Holme

Born in the mid-south and keeps getting dragged back there. Warner Holme is well studied in fantastical and mysterious fiction.