CREAM OF THE CROP
I find it difficult to call any one author my favorite. As soon as I limit myself to having one and only one preferred and beloved very special ANYTHING....writer, artist, song, season, ice cream flavor, cookie....invariably The Fates read my mind and with intentional irony and much mythological mirth cause me to be exposed to some brilliant new work or scene or taste sensation. Nature is not particularly rooted in permanence, but now that I think about it, that isn't such a bad thing.
For a long time though, I've known that Barbara Kingsolver is, shall I say, one of my very favorite writers. Her most ambitious work, The Poisonwood Bible, took Kingsolver over ten years to write, and tells of the lives of an evangelical minister and his family in the Congo over three tumultuous decades. In this scathing indictment of colonialism and cultural arrogance, the dysfunctional Price family wrestles with a foreign lifestyle and must invariably confront the horrible repercussions of their own, and their country's, hubris.
Prodigal Summer, a tribute to the interdependencies between nature and humankind, is set among the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia. The title refers to the fecundity of life, a theme Kingsolver is prepared to write about with expertise, having earned a graduate degree in ecology and evolutionary biology before becoming a full time author. The main characters include a headstrong wildlife biologist, a highly educated entomologist, and a 70-something traditional farmer. Their lives and crises, described in beautiful lyrical prose, make this book, which is in essence a love story, transcendent because of Kingsolver's narrative skills and keen insights into human nature and the environment.
A recipient of the National Humanities medal in 2000, Kingsolver is also known for her novels The Bean Trees, Animal Dreams, and Pigs in Heaven. In 2007 her nonfiction book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life was published. While other writers moralize about the havoc wrecked by industrial agriculture, carbon footprints, and unhealthy diets, Kingsolver literally pulls up roots and relocates with her family to a small farm in Virginia, to begin an experiment in which the goal is to consume only foods which either are locally produced or grown by the family themselves. The chapter about raising turkeys is uproariously funny. Daughter Camille contributes recipes; the family's efforts succeed in large part because they all work together.
I'm really looking forward to reading The Lacuna: A Novel, Kingsolver's new book about Harrison Shepherd, a writer of romantic adventure novels, making his way through life and encountering notable historical figures including Frida Kahlo and a young Richard Nixon along the way. Lately it seems like every other book I pick up is a memoir, so it is fitting that this story is narrated through a collection of diary entries, archivist's notes, newspaper articles, and other records. A review from the Washington Post states that The Lacuna "resurrects several dramatic events of the early 20th century that have fallen out of public consciousness, brings alive the forgotten details of everyday life in the 1940s, and illustrates how attitudes and prejudices are shaped by political opportunism and the rapacious media". The book has received kudos from many sources; I expect it will be another bestseller for Kingsolver.
Just out of curiosity, I checked the New York Times bestseller list. The Lacuna is currently at number 5 for hardcover fiction. Fates, be forewarned. I'll be saluting Barbara Kingsolver with MY FAVORITE drink, milk, and please pass the chocolate chip cookies.
Kingsolver family image courtesy of Thomas Ford Memorial Library