Archive for the ‘Barbara Kingsolver’ Tag

A Classic Tale With a Modern Twist   Leave a comment

Barbara Kingsolver acknowledges a connection with Charles Dickens, which explains the many similarities between her most recent novel, Demon Copperhead, and the classic David Copperfield. Admittedly, I’ve forgotten a lot about the latter, but recall enough to know they both deal with contemporary social issues of their times. For Dickens, child labor, squalid living conditions and long-standing poverty in 1800s London were among the problems he addressed.

Kingsolver sets her narrative in southern Appalachia where Demon, an exceptionally reliable narrator, tells his life’s story beginning with his birth in a single-wide trailer to an unwed mother prone to addiction. If not for the kindness of neighbors, the Peggots, who temporarily and intermittently become his surrogate family, Demon likely would have ended up in foster care long before he did.

The topics Kingsolver focuses on include physical abuse, disarray within the foster care system, child labor, the elevation of high school football over classroom education and widespread drug addiction. Demon is a victim of these and more. Despite often making poor decisions – without consistent role models there’s little reason to expect otherwise – he’s intelligent and self-aware. He’s also caring and resilient.

Demon is artistic and a keen observer of his situation and those around him. His hunger in one foster home is palpable, as is his fear when he runs away.  Besides the Peggots, a handful of other adults try to help Demon, but their rural community has access to ill-gotten pharmaceuticals with few resources to focus on their consequences.

Demon Copperhead

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks

Harper, 2022

548 pages, includes acknowledgements

Housing Issues   Leave a comment

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Usually it’s the first line of a Barbara Kingsolver book that grabs me; it took much longer with Unsheltered. However, what may have been lacking in initial engagement is negated by the lingering thoughts since closing the pages of her newest novel.

This is a two-in-one story about two families living in the same house but separated by two centuries. Aside from the dilapidated structure, at first it seems there is little else in common. Yet, it’s surprising how much they share. Kingsolver methodically reveals the similarities by alternating chapters between the old and the contemporary.  Politics, prejudices, meaning of family and beauty of friendship are portrayed in each time frame. And always, another part of the house is falling apart. Neither family has the wherewithal to make the necessary repairs.

Willa Knox is the matriarch whose family has inherited the home. Her counterpart from the previous century is Thatcher Greenwood, a science teacher, who lived with his wife, mother-in-law and spirited younger sister-in-law.

While researching the history of the house, Willa learns about Mary Treat, a 19th century botanist who corresponded with Darwin and other scientists of her day and becomes a friend of Thatcher’s. Treat is another connection between the past and present.

Kingsolver incorporates several techniques such as the parallels among the characters in each era and ending each chapter with a line that serves as the title of next section. These, and other aspects, kept me turning pages – even if not always at a rapid rate.

Unsheltered
Four Bookmarks
Harper, 2018
464 pages

Global Issues and Self-Discovery   Leave a comment

flight

Barbara Kingsolver and Joni Mitchell have a lot in common – at least to me. I’m especially drawn to their early works. They’re prolific and both know the beauty of language. Even though they’re favorites of mine, it doesn’t mean I don’t see their foibles.

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve listened to anything by Mitchell, but I did just finish Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. I pretty much read anything and everything she writes. Unfortunately, it didn’t wow me. It has plenty of descriptive images and the characters are interesting, but the story itself is just too predictable.

Climate change is the driving issue with the theme of understanding the world around us. Dellarobia is a young mother of two in a lackluster marriage. Just as she is about to embark on an affair, she discovers monarch butterflies have blanketed the woods on the family land in rural Tennessee. This introduces her to scientists, the media, family secrets, and herself.

Dellarobia’s an appealing character. She’s a good mother, but isn’t thrilled by being a wife thanks to her easy-going husband, Cub, and his willful, demanding parents. To counter the country folk, Kingsolver brings in the intellectual Ovid Byron, a researcher.

The gist of the story can be found in the first and last chapters. The downside to only turning those pages is that you’d miss the imagery, sarcasm ascribed to some of the characters, and the magic Kingsolver has with words. Then again, you’d get to skip the preachy tone and predictability. It might be time to listen to Joni Mitchell again.

Flight Behavior
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
HarperCollins 2012
433 pages