Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"The Bean Trees" by Barbara Kingsolver

A few months ago I was introduced to the work of Barbara Kingsolver. My parents had encouraged me to read her for years but for some reason I just wasn't interested. Finally they sent me home with "The Poisonwood Bible" and I became a convert. Ms. Kingsolver is a fantastic storyteller and picking up one of her books is sure to trap you in it's spell until you have finished the last page.

Since I'm crazy about a lot of books I can easily be distracted so it's been a while since I put down "Poisonwood". But last week I ordered "The Bean Trees" from King County Libraries. I picked it up on Sunday and finished reading it on Monday night. Although the book isn't set in such a exotic location as "Poisonwood", Barbara Kingsolver still manages to enthrall us with the depth of her characters.

Our narrator for the tale is Marietta/Missy/Taylor Greer from a small town in Kentucky. Her number one goal in life is to get through high school without having children - a major feat where she comes from. She is an only child from a single Mother who thinks that everything that her only daughter does is just about the best thing ever....period.

After she achieves her goal and works a couple of years in a local hospital Missy saves her money and buys herself some very basic transportation. Missy takes her car and what little money she has and takes off West. The first town where she is forced to get gas is called Taylorsville and in the spirit of starting over she changes her first name to Taylor.

Taylor's trip across middle America is full of surprises but none bigger than the small child that is placed in the passenger seat of her car in the middle of Cherokee nation in Oklahoma. As Taylor is forced into caring for this small girl she finds out that the child has been horribly abused and is basically in a catatonic state. She calls her Turtle.

Taylor and Turtle's trip across America comes to an abrupt end in Tuscon when the tires of her car finally bite the dust. Fortunately for them they happen to land in a spot where Taylor learns that families come in all different shapes and sizes and that love is the glue that holds them together.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when Taylor and her roommate are woken by their elderly female neighbors and told to bring their children across to their house. "We followed her out our front door and up the walk to their porch. I could make out Edna sitting in the glider, and in the corner of the porch we saw what looked like a bouquet of silver-white balloons hanging in the air.


A night blooming cereus, Virgie Mae explained. The flowers open for only one night of the year, and then they are gone".

One of the things about this book is that near the end I had decided that I knew exactly what was going to happen. My ending was kind of sad but also kind of good too. But I was soooo wrong. Ms. Kingsolver resolves it in a way that had never occurred to me and it was very satisfying. This book originally published in 1988 is still a fantastic read and I recommend you enjoy it as soon as you can.

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