Today, Mo Daviau is here to share a guest post. Her debut novel, Every Anxious Wave, released on February 9th from St. Martin’s Press.
Read on for more………
Hello from 980 AD!
By Mo Daviau
In my novel, Every Anxious Wave, the character Wayne, through a mistaken time travel transmission, ends up not in the year 1980, as he had planned, but the year 980. Like, before North American recorded history. Way before European colonization. Wayne wanders through the woods and snow for a while, comes upon a village of hunters and gatherers who also fish, and he assimilates into their society, quite happily. Life back home in Chicago in 2010 is dreary and difficult compared to what the people of 980 have to offer, which is duty, shared work, and unconditional love.
The book Sex at Dawn by Drs. Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha is cited as one a prime studies of nonmonogamy and human sexual behavior, but the touchstone of that book that struck me the most wasn’t related to human sexuality, but to the concept of property. According to Ryan and Jetha, prior to the advent of agriculture, humans moved about in hunter/gatherer tribes where resources were shared among the group. Even things such as paternity were non-issues, as children, like everything else, belonged to everyone. They argue that once agriculture and, thus, land ownership, came into play that the concept of “mine”—my heirs, my property—came into being.
Prior to reading Sex at Dawn, I learned about and became somewhat obsessed with the Oneida Community. For you flatware fans out there, the Oneida Silverware Company began as a religious utopian commune. Between 1849 and 1879, hundreds of followers of the teachings of charismatic preacher named John Humphrey Noyes lived together in a giant mansion in Oneida, NY, where they practiced “complex marriage”—every man was married to every woman. Noyes attempted to eradicate possessiveness from his flock for Biblical reasons, to mixed results. Oneida as a utopian commune eventually failed—Noyes fled the country after child molestation charges and the majority of the remaining residents decided that they wanted to only be married to one person, but the silverware company continued for over a hundred years.
It was these two models of shared resources and harmonious cooperative living that informed my decision to send Wayne back to the year 980 and love it enough to not want to leave. There is no recorded history available to anyone seeking to research pre-Columbian indigenous cultures in North America during that era, so I made an educated guess based on what I could find about the Lenape tribes about five hundred years after 980, but also writing speculatively about who he might find and what they might get up to every day. So I imagined that Wayne would find himself welcomed by a hunter/gatherer society, and that, in his computer programmer’s mind, he would be given a job, which he would do, and the completion of that job would make him happy.
I realize there are some imperfections in this. Why would we like a character who abandons his friends in the present? Do his values really gel with a hunter/gatherer society? Why would the hunter/gatherers embrace this random guy who showed up out of nowhere? Isn’t Wayne being a little selfish?
I guess this is a fantasy a lot of us have—that we’ll find our tribe, our 980, the people who meet us with unconditional love. The possibility of this seems distant and rare. At its worst, such an enterprise in modern times would look like a dangerous cult that love-bombs you to gain your trust and loyalty. But at best? I can’t say I’m sure of how we might find that in modern American society.
When people ask me how to sustain a work of fiction for the length of time it takes to finish a novel, I tell them that they have to write from obsession, and that there needs to be a question that burns brightly in their minds that only fictional exploration can solve. When writing Every Anxious Wave, the answer to this burning question seemed to be answerable only through time travel, going back to an unknowable time a thousand years back to unrecorded history, where one could imagine fishing all day and loving everyone.
Happy Reading and Bookishly Yours,
T @ Traveling With T