Lost in America May 1, 2007
After reading this book, you'll add Taylor Greer and her mother Alice to your list of unforgettable literary characters. Barbara Kingsolver has created two women that appeal to the adventurer-homebody/lover-loner/warrior-coward in all of us who've ever loved someone, lost someone, taken a risk, made a wrong turn, or changed her mind.
Kingsolver begins this sequel-of-sorts to The Bean Trees with sixty-one-year-old Alice and her dissapointing late-in-life marriage. She finds her escape when her daughter Taylor faces the possibility of losing her adopted Cherokee daughter Turtle. These three generations of tough-and-tender females take to the open road, finding adventure, betrayal, and each other along the way. Alice's maternal wisdom, human compassion, and off-beat humor combined with Taylor's desperation, vulnerability, and cynicism strike a chord in the soul of every woman who's been a mother, longed to be a mother, or had a mother.
Few authors can create a bond between the reader and virtually every character in a novel, but Kingsolver manages to do just that. Each character is believable, but each one goes beyond mere believeability. The reader identifies or at least empathizes with, each character, which is no mean feat, because the characters are often at odds with one another. I couldn't take sides, which is not usually the case in a work of fiction.
Characters such as these deserve nothing less than a masterful plot, and Kingsolver delivers that, too. She seamlessly weaves the lives of the characters into and away from those of other characters, crossing state lines, legal boundaries, and familial limits without once disorienting the reader's sense of time or place. The events flow, the settings connect, friendships form, relationships evolve and adjust, and Taylor's situation deteriorates to its lowest point - all without mawkishness or artificiality. Even Taylor's desperate call to her mother breathes pathos without becoming either sappy or hollow. These are real-life characters involved with real-life issues, finding along the way some real-life truths: life isn't simple, answers don't come easy, and sometimes the world doesn't make sense.
One of the many amazing qualities of this book is that, in spite of the suffering, grief, and crises contained in its pages, it manages to emerge as a breath of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel, and a tribute to the indomitable spirit that we hope is within us all. Like the proverbial butterfly, or in this case, swine, we can find a paradise of sorts if we adjust our perspectives to allow the unexpected to enrich rather than devastate the life with which we've become comfortable.