Friday, February 01, 2013

Fiction Review: Pigs in Heaven

After reading The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver at the end of the year, I couldn’t wait to read the sequel, Pigs in Heaven. I wasn’t disappointed. Kingsolver’s warm, witty writing pulled me back into Taylor and Turtle’s world, and I never wanted to leave.

Taylor, originally from Kentucky but now a resident of Tucson, AZ, and her adopted native American daughter, Turtle, are on vacation and make a stop at the Hoover Dam. Turtle says she saw a man fall, but at first, no one believes a six-year old child as a credible witness. Taylor, however, never doubts her for a moment, and a man’s life is saved.  Turtle’s sudden celebrity puts them in the national spotlight, with consequences Taylor never could have imagined. Thrown into a crisis with a potential outcome that is unthinkable, Taylor and Turtle must somehow protect their little family.

In this novel, we also get to see things from Taylor’s mother Alice’s perspective, from her lonely existence in rural Kentucky to her quick change of plans when her daughter needs her. In fact, this novel is all about mothers and daughters, as well as friends and the varied definitions of family. The story moves from Kentucky to Arizona to Washington to Heaven, Oklahoma, in the heart of the Cherokee Nation.

As in The Bean Trees, Kingsolver’s writing is exquisite. She has a way of saying things that can make you laugh out loud and also nod your head in agreement, as here when Taylor and Turtle are visiting the Hoover Dam:

“Do not sit on wail,” Turtle says, stopping to point at the wall. She’s learning to read, in kindergarten and the world at large.

“On wall,” Taylor says. “Do not sit on wall.”

The warning is stenciled along a waist-high parapet that runs across the top of the dam, but the words are mostly obscured by the legs of all the people sitting on the wall. Turtle looks up at her mother with the beautiful bewilderment children wear on their faces till the day they wake up knowing everything.

When Taylor and Turtle visit Las Vegas with Alice, Taylor describes the city’s residents and visitors: “This is the twilight zone of humanity.” The entire novel is warm and witty, heartbreaking and heartwarming. Alice, Taylor, and Turtle all feel like good friends, and I never wanted it to end. You know when you love a book so much that after you finish it, you reverently close the cover, hold it to your chest, and just sigh? It’s like that.

343 pages, HarperPerennial

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible.


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  1. I really enjoy Kingsolver's fiction. I'm in the middle of her latest, Flight Behavior, right now.

  2. I have felt that "close the book reverently while sighing" feeling. That is the way that I remember Pigs in Heaven, too. But it has been so long since I read it I'm afraid most of the details have faded. Have you read any other books by Kingsolver other than this and Bean Trees? I had the same type of feeling for The Poisonwood Bible.

  3. Oh, yes, Anne...The Poisonwood Bible is one of my top 5 of all-time books! Loved it. I read it as though I were addicted and lived in their world! Great book.

    I just bought Prodigal Summer and have the audio of her latest, Flight Behavior. Yay!