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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

The Bean Trees

The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver

Many who know my taste in literature have, over the years, suggested Barbara Kingsolver to me. Any Kingsolver, they said, you'll love everything she does. Well, the first part of their promise has yet to be seen, but they were definitely wrong about the second. Any Kingsolver won't impress me: The Bean Trees certainly did not.

 

It was probably not the best story to start with. Those who recommended Kingsolver wouldn't steer me wrong—not completely anyway. After all, this was her first novel and it certainly showed potential. The problem was The Bean Trees was all wrong to me. It reeked of author manipulation. I'm all for the author showing her hand in her work, but it has to be done skillfully—this was not the case here. Kingsolver had an idea—a great idea—for a story, but in order to make it work, she had to bend here and there, align all the pieces on the board just right so that the story made sense. But for me, it didn't make sense. Why would Taylor, who's primarily goal in life is to escape pregnancy, take this child that is thrust upon her with barely a thought? Who said the child wasn't already a victim of kidnapping, the kidnapper quickly trying to rid herself of her crime? The premise is preposterous, yet the story hinges on the reader's acceptance of these facts. Then we sprinkle in a dose of illegal immigration, abuse, and the faulty social work system so that we can get from Point A to Point B, and tie it up with a pretty little bow. It could work, except for the fact it doesn't.

 

I think Kingsolver shows some talent, and if it wasn't the few good scenes she wrote in this novel, along with some good descriptive writing, and for the high recommendations of others, I wouldn't consider returning to her. The Bean Trees reminds me of something Jodi Picoult would've written, and perhaps this is why so many people love this novel. It has that same overworked, syrupy plot. There's certainly a fan base for this style of writing, but I'm not among them. I am sentimental and I love a story that can move me, but this... It's so over processed and reworked and forced into a mold that I could only love it for its potential.

 

So I'll try again. I hear The Poisonwood Bible is fantastic.