Susan Palwick’s The Necessary Beggar

This is the first book I’ve read for a while that reminds me of James Blish’s A Case of Conscience. Both books try to figure out through story the theological implications of intelligent life on other planets or in other dimensions.

A family from Lémabantunk are exiled to Nevada. The people of Lémabantunk have a beautiful religion, one that probably resembles Susan Palwick’s own understanding of Christianity more closely than does the Christianity practiced by the Nevadans they encounter. This is of course an old device – like the Houyhnhnms being more human than the Yahoos – but still effective.

“Welcoming the Necessary Beggar is a symbol of welcoming the rest of the world.” The Necessary Beggar makes it clear what Palwick thinks a Christian attitude to homelessness, healthcare, and immigration would be: since the loudest U.S. Christians have rather different attitudes, we might call Palwick's a liberal Episcopalian attitude. As a volunteer ER chaplain, she has the details down. The book has its “bleeding-heart” moments and maybe reads a bit like soap opera in places, but one could say the same about the New Testament.

Here Palwick describes
writing The Necessary Beggar as “ten and a half weeks of bliss.” From any other novelist's perspective, that’s just annoying... Perhaps we should just accept The Necessary Beggar as a divinely revealed text, and declare that in this book Palwick is writing not just fiction but scripture.

Poet Jose Emilio Pacheco has noted that one can think of writers themselves as members of a mendicant order...

Scroll to Top