This month’s book review is more reflection and reimagining than review; I happened to pick up The Clowns of God, (1981) by Morris L. West, remembering how much I enjoyed reading him some 50 years ago, when I was in high school. (My 50-year reunion is coming up; I guess remembrances of the past and musings about the present, filtered by the pandemic year of fear, speculation, and isolation, prompted that blast from the past.) The Clowns of God is considered the second in a trilogy, following the much-loved Shoes of the Fisherman (1963), a title phrase not unlike our current pontiff’s “smell of the sheep.”) Both books can be read with fresh eyes, given our recent experience of a Pope elected amid controversy and beset by detractors and opposition, and our current global situation of climate crisis, what some may call “an apocalypse.” But the crisis envisioned (and it is indeed a “vision”) in this book, published 40 years ago, was global nuclear war, not climate change.
It may be easy to dismiss, with the benefit of hindsight, the fears of imminent nuclear disaster forming the center of this book. But those fears and the nuclear arms race are still realities today, and so The Clowns of God can rightly be read on its own merits and context; what struck me, however, was the obvious analogy to our present crisis of global devastation via climate change, so vividly and profoundly described in our current Pontiff’s encyclical Laudato Si. Two early quotes seem strangely pertinent:
“It is clear that in the days of universal calamity the traditional structures of society will not survive. There will be a ferocious struggle for the simplest needs of life—food, water, fuel and shelter.”
We are certainly seeing that struggle in our own day: ecological damage, global drought, wildfires, storms and floods, have displaced countless thousands, and societal and political structures are threatened with collapse.
“The scenario of catastrophe is already a matter of informed speculation and military strategies.”
In our case, climate change is no longer a matter of “informed speculation” but of scientific fact, deemed by the recent U.N. IPCC report unequivocally a result of mankind’s poor stewardship of the planet.
As I continue to read this book, I look forward to the development of the apocalypse theme, and, hopefully, its positive resolution in the third book of the trilogy: Lazarus (published 1990.)
Mary McCarty is a native of Southern California and has managed the bookstore at the Jesuit Retreat Center for over 4 years.