A Psalm for the Wild-Built is a novella about what it means to be human, and how it’s up to you to define what that means for yourself. It is the first installment of Becky Chambers’ novella series about a monk that decided to quit their job and go live in the wilds and search for crickets. Becky Chambers is one of my favorite authors, and a lot of that is because of how cozy and warm her writing is – even when she is writing about intense psychotic breakdowns. Although Psalm is short and sweet, it is a perfect story for those who have felt alone, frustrated, and directionless in the last year.
The monk in question is named Dex, and their life is pretty good. They have a job, a purpose, and they are good at it. But as they sit there and do it, day in and day out, they feel like they want to scream into the void. Eventually, they make a snap decision to quit their current position, get a tea cart, travel around the world as a shoulder to lean on, and see if they can find crickets. The world is split into two halves, one developed and one completely wild. It has been years since there have been crickets in the developed half of the world, but Dex hopes by moving around they will eventually find some. They go from town to town, set up a tea shop, and listen to people’s problems and give advice. Dex is bad at it at first, but with time they become almost a celebrity. Yet, something is still missing. They still haven’t found crickets.
Eventually, Dex once again quits their role and decides to foray into the wild half of the world to find crickets. While there, they meet a robot. This is an extremely momentous occasion, as no human has seen a robot since they all achieved sentience and decided to go live deep in the wild half of the world without contact. Dex and the robot decide to share a journey and discuss the meaning of life.
One of the things I don’t like about Psalm, especially compared to the other Chambers works I have read, is I feel like it lacks subtlety. Chambers is amazing at taking seemingly ordinary circumstances and using them to weave in powerful messages about the human condition. Psalm, with its shorter page length and extremely specific plot, is a lot more direct. It feels somehow less magical. Yet, Psalm’s topicality makes up for its more straightforward messages.
I think a lot of us in the last year have been disenchanted with the way we live our lives. Many of us wonder what our purpose is and if we are living our lives the best way possible. Psalm has numerous powerful dialogues between Dex and the Robot about the nature of how we live and our purpose. All of it paints Chambers as a woman with an enormous amount of intelligence and provides a novella full of sage advice. If you are in the market for some new ideas, take a look.