Review: The Bean Trees

October 24, 2010 Comments Off on Review: The Bean Trees

I recently finished (re)reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees. It was her first novel, but you wouldn’t know it from the writing. If you’ve read The Poisonwood Bible, which is one of the most important books that has ever been written and everyone in the world should read it, then you have something to compare it to and The Bean Trees is clearly inferior. However, in terms of first novels, this one is absolutely tops. The story is simple and clear-hearted, and even when it gets intense it’s still like listening to an amazing storyteller who you trust won’t let you leave depressed.

I especially loved the dialect. The main character is from rural Kentucky, and, although Kingsolver avoids phonetically writing the accent, the voice is clear as a bell because of the words and expressions she picks…it’s just magical. I’ve never seen it before. And the little girl character is at such a fun stage to read; the scenes with her make me laugh out loud. By and large the characters are wonderfully drawn. Even though my mom tells me she says it all the time, this book is where I got my new favorite expression, “Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise.”

EXCERPT:

When I drove over the Pittman line I made two promises to myself. One I kept, the other I did not.

The first was that I would get myself a new name. I wasn’t crazy about anything I had been called up to that point in life, and this seemed like the time to make a clean break. I didn’t have any special name in mind, but just wanted a change. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that a name is not something a person really has the right to pick out, but is something you’re provided with more or less by chance. I decided to let the gas tank decide. Wherever it ran out, I’d look for a sign.

I came pretty close to being named after Homer, Illinois, but I kept pushing it. I kept my fingers crossed through Sidney, Sadorus, Cerro Gordo, Decatur, and Blue Mound, and coasted into Taylorville on the fumes. And so I am Taylor Greer. I suppose you could say I had  some part in choosing this name, but there was enough of destiny in it to satisfy me.

The second promise, the one that I broke, had to do with where I would end up. I had looked at some maps, but since I had never in my own memory been outside of Kentucky (I was evidently born across the river in Cincinnati, but that is beside the point), I had no way of knowing why or how any particular place might be preferable to any other. That is, apart from the pictures on the gas station brochures: Tennessee claimed to be the Volunteer State, and Missouri the Show-Me State, whatever that might mean, and nearly everyplace appeared to have plenty of ladies in fifties hairdos standing near waterfalls. These brochures I naturally did not trust as far as I could throw them out the window. Even Pittman, after all, had once been chosen an All-Kentucky City, on the basis of what I do not know. Its abundance of potato bugs and gossip, perhaps. I knew how people could toot their own horn without any earthly cause.

And so what I promised myself is that I would drive west until my car stopped running, and there I would stay. But there were some things I hadn’t considered. Mama taught me well about tires, and many other things besides, but I knew nothing of rocker arms. And I did not know about the Great Plain.

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