CHARACTERS

It’s probably come to your attention, by now, that I write about themes that matter a great deal to me. Above, I discussed two existential threats to our civilization: our vulnerable infrastructure and sustainability. A theme, perhaps, even more pertinent to the fate of the human species is our relationship with ourselves. At its core, Patriarch Run is a coming-of-age story. It’s about two types of fathers, one who sacrifices himself for his son and one who sacrifices his son for his mission. Rachel teaches us that we need to learn to love ourselves if we’re going to have anything to offer any one else. In that sense, the story is about making choices, about the type of father, the type of mother we aspire to be.

  • I wrote a reflection on these themes here.

Below are the interviews I conducted with Jack before he died and with Rachel and Billy. Below that, are the questions from the discussion guide found at the back of Patriarch Run.


Interview with Jack Erikson

Spring, 2010

Q: Jack, it’s hard not to think of you as the bad guy. Your intent seems to be mass murder on a scale never seen before in human history.

A: I don’t know how I can be seen in any other light. If I’m successful, there will be several billion deaths following my own.

Q: I’m having a hard time with that statement. You don’t seem like a malicious person. You obviously care deeply about your family. You’ve spent your life helping those without power to help themselves. I just can’t make sense of what you’re saying.

A: If I’m right in my calculations, the catastrophe I intend to inflict is the only way to save us from a much larger catastrophe in the future. 

Q: I’m sorry, but that sounds like crazy talk.

A: Do the math. At a growth rate of just one percent, which seems quite low, the human population will double every seventy years. How many people will be suffering from hunger seventy years from now? And if you manage to feed them, how much bigger can the population get before the whole ecosystem comes crashing down? We are in the midst of the Holocene extinction, the Sixth extinction. To do nothing is to doom us and all we know and love to Earth’s long and storied fossil record.

Q: Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that your math is right. Isn’t there another way? Can’t we reach sustainability humanely?

A: Obviously, I’ve come to a different conclusion.

Q: I don’t understand. You seem like a good guy. How could you . . . ?

A: There is a lot working against a humane solution, namely our own biology. We are wired to reproduce. We are wired for growth, for colonization. It’s what we do as a species. We’re aggressive. We’re territorial. Listen, you’re never going to get the elk to stop breeding. They need a wolf to be kept in balance, as do we.

Q: But birth rates are falling in developed nations.

A: Yes, they are. And the global population continues to grow. There’s not enough planet to pamper us all the way we pamper the West. The timeline for action is finite.

Q: What about your wife, your son?

A: We have to share the sacrifice. 

Q: You know you sound like a madman, right?

A: We’ve evolved for self-preservation, the preservation of the family, the tribe. Which means we will reproduce. That’s our evolutionary programing. We did not evolve to consider the whole planet in our quest for security. Our instincts are more short-sighted, self-centered, more primal.

Q: That sounds so cynical. You make it sound like we’re animals.

A: And you make it sound like we’re not.

Q: If you’re right, if you get everything you want, if you reduce the number, all you’re buying is time. It’ll happen again.

A: That’s someone else’s problem.

Q: Listen, I don’t want to talk about the math. I know there’s a heart beating in your chest. I’ve seen it. Your son, Jack. What about your son?

Jack slowly shook his head. His eyes grew red and filled with tears. Then he ended the interview.


Interview with Rachel Erikson

Fall, 2010

 Q: You might be my favorite person. I don’t know anybody else like you.

A: You’re kind to me.

Q: I’m serious, Rachel. What you did, what you endured. How is it you never gave up?

A: You might be giving me a little too much credit on that account. If you’ll recall, I did give up. It was too much for me.

Q: You’re referring to your grief, to your death?

A: Yes.

Q: That’s not the way I see it. I think Billy’s alive today because of you, because of your fierce love.

A: I don’t know what to say about that.

Q: It seems to me that your relationship with Billy has changed. That when he left for college there was some sort of tension between the two of you.

A: Yes. Billy killed his father. He hasn’t been the same since.

Q: That must be hard for you.

A: He is in a place right now where I can’t reach him.

Q: You mean emotionally?

A: Yes.

Q: I just want you to know that I think you’re a great mom. Billy is lucky to have you.

A: That’s kind of you to say. But there’s an open wound in this family.

Q: I can see that this is a painful subject. I think we can move to another. What do you make of the Blackout?

A: I hope they get it figured out. Winter’s coming. I donated my bison herd to help feed the town of Patriarch, as we haven’t seen a delivery truck in this county for several weeks.


Interview with Billy Erikson

Fall, 2010

Q: I see they’ve closed the campus.

A: Yes. They’re trying to send us home. But there’s no transportation.

Q: The fuel shortage?

A: Yes.

Q: When was the last time you talked to your mom?

A: A couple days before I left to come here.

Q: You miss her?

A: I guess.

Q: What are your plans?

A: I don’t know.

Q: I could help you get home.

A: That’s a kind offer, Mister, but I’ve got to do some things first.

Q: Like what?

A: I don’t know.

Q: If I can help you in any way . . . 

A: Thank you.

Billy stood up. He looked around the room. Then he shook my hand and left.


Questions from the

Discussion Guide

If we can look at being a parent, for the moment, as a spectrum of choices between sacrificing yourself for your children (Regan) on one end and sacrificing your children for your mission (Jack) on the other end, where is it you’d like to be on that spectrum?

Is Jack the good guy or the bad guy?

  • I offer my thoughts on this question here.

The way I see it, Rachel saved Regan’s life on that cliff’s edge. What is it she did? Why do you think he didn’t jump?

Billy killed his dad. Would you have pulled the trigger? How do you think one recovers from that?

Rachel survived a lot in order to learn to love herself, to offer grace and compassion to herself. What does her journey mean to you?

If you could take one of the characters in Patriarch Run out to lunch, who would it be?

The story is written from three points of view (Rachel’s, Billy’s, and Jack’s). All three characters are limited in their understanding of the events that take place. And all three of them have misconceptions about those events. That being said, the reader is aware of the big picture through all their perspectives. How does that structure enhance the tension of the narrative?