"In Our Bones" is a work of fiction, but its themes of an unstable political system, a fraying society, and the growing appeal of white nationalist groups have unmistakable, real-life echoes. That's by design, said its author, Pernell Plath Meier.

Minnesota-born Lauren is a "troubled soul" who retreats into her own world as the country and its democratic traditions fall apart. The nation has descended into authoritarianism and is ruled by a President Trump-like figure. The book is a kind of alternative history, a what-if, that at times doesn't seem so implausible.

Published by Between the Lines Publishing in Lutsen, "In Our Bones" can be bought online on Amazon and Barnes & Noble or at Silver Lake Books in Rochester. It goes for $12.99.

Author Pernell Plath Meier. (Contributed photo)
Author Pernell Plath Meier. (Contributed photo)

Why did you call the book "In Our Bones"?

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It's from one of the lines in the book: "We all knew in our bones that things were bad with society, that there was something wrong or something broken. We didn't quite know how to put our finger on it."

And, personally, I think that's what's going on with all this stuff. I'm an anthropologist by training and have studied small-scale cultures. If you compare modern society with how we meet our emotional needs now versus the small-scale culture, we're not even coming close.

So this brokenness leads to a Trump-like figure who essentially takes over.

That is my assertion. There is that meaning that people are looking for. There's a brokenness inside of people. Particularly, unfortunately, middle- and working-class white men, who have had a privileged position in society, have suffered a decline in status. And then you have a Trump-like leader who comes in and says, "It's not your fault that things are bad." It's the Black people. It's the immigrants. It's all these other people who are creating the problems that you're suffering from.

You don't have to look within or look at the larger structural issues of the economy. You just blame other people.

Why did you write the book?

Last summer, in 2019, I read the International Report on Climate Change from the (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and was seeing all these trends with white nationalism and authoritarian tendencies. And I'm like, if all this stuff goes down, we are screwed. The book was a way for me to do something about the problem. Even if it was just writing a book, it was something I could do to address these things.

Why do you think such a dystopian world is a possibility?

I think Trump is a character that many people on the left want to dismiss as a fool. I'm not going to say Trump is so smart that he is playing four-dimensional chess like these QAnon people think. But he's not a fool. Narcissists, interestingly enough, often have more emotional intelligence than the rest of us. So, they know how to emotionally manipulate people. He knows how to whip up fear. He knows how to induce anxiety. He knows how to play on people's worst instincts.

It's one thing to write your first book. It's another to get it published. How did you get a publisher?

It was serendipity. I figured I was going to have to self-publish, because the timeline was so short. I wanted it out before the election. I was on a Facebook group for self-publishing people. I commented on somebody's post, and my publisher wrote to me on that thread. He's like, "Hey, what's your book about? Is your manuscript done?"

I submitted to them my first three chapters. They knew I could write from the chapters I submitted. It was still a leap of faith for them.

It appears to be getting a good reception, based on online reviews.

The only thing I know is I wrote my publisher, and I said, "Are you guys happy with the sales?" They are. That's all I know. I follow my sales rank on Amazon every day. It changes pretty dramatically from day to day.