Author: Barbara Kingsolver, published Oct. 2018
I’ve fretted over this review for over a month. And, because how my OCD is set up, 4 other reviews are backed up behind it. 🤦🏾♀️ I can’t write those before I complete this one. Enough already. Time to shit or get off the pot.
Hard bottom line: I liked it. Even though this family is very different from mine, I think it’s because of that, I enjoyed being invited into their lives. I’m sure I would never get the opportunity to see such a raw depiction any other way. And that’s pretty much the same opinion I had about the family from my last Kingsolver novel, The Poisonwood Bible. I’m not sure I liked the characters but, I can confess to being entertained by their perspective. I admit, I’m slowly creating a love/hate relationship with Kingsolver and her characters.
This story is about two families living different lives, in different periods, but in the same house. Not a new concept, but, certainly one made interesting. The two periods are alike in that one society, in aprox 2016, is being commandeered by a rich white man that braggs he COULD shoot someone in the middle of the street and get away with it/loose votes, while, in the other period, circa 1800’s, a rich white man, ACTUALLY shoots someone in the middle of the street, and gets away with it. #MAGA 🙄 #OrWhatever
We meet our current day family as they move into a recently inherited home in Vineland, New Jersey. The husband, Iano, is an instructor at a local college. Under employed, over educated, and according to his wife, unmotivated to change. The wife, Willa, is our narrator for the most part. She’s an out of work journalist and full time caregiver to her very ill and, very racist, father in law, who lives with the family. The couple has two young adult children: Tig, the college educated, working as a waitress, millennial daughter, whose dating the Mexican nextdoor, to irritate anyone watching and Zeke, the cast in Trump’s own image son, uber capitalist, who eventually, abandons his newborn in exchange for chasing a dollar. Well, a million dollars, to hear him tell it. The one, and maybe a half, income family is poor in the truest sense of the term and their house is falling down around them. Welcome to the average middle class American family. Living paycheck to paycheck and/or one healthcare crisis away from poverty. It’s like a CNN statistic come to life.
Willa’s idea to save the house, is to see if it qualifies for historical status. During her search we meet our family from the 1800’s. Their story revolves around the questionable friendship between scientist Thatcher & Mary. Thatcher is a science teacher in the local school, caught in the developing battle of teaching Darwin’s evolution versus creation. The road this takes to a shooting on Main St is almost more interesting than Willa and Co., although, here, Barb gets really deep in the weeds with the details. You’ll read way too much about science and horticulture for no reason apparent to me. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you, I skipped a page or three of banter between Thatcher and Mary. I just didn’t care much about bugs and plants and having read the entire book, I don’t even understand why we had to know any of it. It had no place in the plot as far as I could determine.
Perhaps, the final character is Kingsolver’s opinion of the white female electorate. Online, the book gets a mixed bag of reviews and reading them, maybe it’s because they don’t like the mirror Barbara’s holding up. Like I said earlier, a CNN statistic come to life. Statistics say the average white American family, despite being college educated, works more hours and gets paid less money than their parents. In an attempt to chase the American Dream, families are more in debt and living paycheck to paycheck and/or couldn’t financially survive an unplanned healthcare crisis. Inflamed by a political and social revolution that supports inclusion and equality for all, especially non-whites and non-Christians…life just isn’t turning out the way their daddy’s and Fox News described.
Willa presents as the raised mostly conservatively, white woman from a well to do middle class, two parent, one income household, IN a two parent, one income household, struggling to make ends meet. She describes herself as pretty and popular and says she ‘did everything right’. She’s college educated, even married to a first generation American from a Greek immigrant family, so she can’t be racist, right? Except, she’s only irritated by her father in law, Nick’s, openly racist rhetoric and ignorant treatment of Tig’s immigrant boyfriend. Her own passive racist thoughts and opinions about her neighbors (who appear to have more money than she) and the world at large go unchecked. Instead of getting a job or pursuing freelance work to help sustain her family, she decides “there must not be enough money in the world anymore”. Translation: We’re now supporting all these ‘others’ so we all have to suffer. 🤷🏾♀️ (Best to build that wall and keep’em out to level set the world again.😏)
To be fair, Kingsolver never mentions Trump by name, though the description of a political ‘blowhard’ is not hard to miss. The book is also an equal opportunity offender considering the father in laws racist rants are, at times, pretty difficult to read. Willa and her daughter are also fairly dismissive to a young lady that shows up as a possible threat to her marriage. Willa sizes up the young lady, face piercing, tattoos and all, and decides the lady is less than she, therefor, it couldn’t be so. Ummm..wow. The daughter does a good job of chastising her parents entitlement through a number of debates staged around the dinner table where she spares with Zeke. I wish Kingsolver would have allowed Willa to take her head out of her ass and see the comparison between what she learns about the past and what is happening in current day. It would have been interesting to get her biased take on it. You can assume the fact that Kingsolver doesn’t allow this says, the problem is, we don’t learn from the past, hence history repeats itself.
The ending doesn’t bring any real revelations so, I get the feeling nothing changes for this family. I assume they stay the course and survive, but, not thrive. To say I enjoyed the book would not best describe the way it made me feel but, it was a very interesting read, though very overhanded with Kingsolver’s opinions. But, alas, that’s MY opinion. Probably, very overhanded in this review. 💁🏾
Sidebar: This book was the flame that lit my blogging match. I realized quickly I would have more to say than any social media platform would care to hold and I didn’t want to downsize. That reluctance gave birth to this blog. #Cheers.