Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver is a very good writer and I have enjoyed all her novels that I have read. I particularly enjoyed this one because it was located in the Southwest of the US, and parts of it took place in a couple of the locations I have visited. Here is a review:
Codi, the novel’s main character, after many years moved back to the small Southwestern town where she grew up, but after her student days at university, moving back and seeing it through adult eyes, felt to her like moving to a new place.
Codi and her sister Hallie grew up in Grace, Arizona, a small Hispanic community in a deep canyon in Arizona. Codi is a damaged individual who grew up feeling that she never fit in with her pier group in their rural community. Their father, Dr. Homer was the small town’s family physician, who had moved the family there when Codi was young. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to Hallie. The fact that the family was from Illinois, seemed to separate them from the others in the community, and Codi’s rather cold father, who raised the girls, seemed to want it that way.
It was not that the townsfolk didn’t welcome the girls, they did, but Codi and Hallie were tight, almost like twins and kept mostly to themselves. Both girls stood out, they were thin, around 6 ft tall, and studious. They were looked upon by the other kids as being the smart girls in the class, and therefore, somewhat aloof.
After high school Codi, and then 2 years later Hallie, left Grace to attend university and didn’t return to Grace. Codi majored in medicine and Hallie in agriculture. The sisters lived together at university. Hallie was passionate about helping the the poor, while Codi had more of a scientific bend. Hallie was always sharing their house with Central American refugees.
After her graduation, Hallie drove herself to Nicaragua to help peasants improve their farming and their human rights. This was during the 1980’s, when President Reagan was funding the Contra militia to kill peasant farmers and people who were trying to improve the lives of the peasants.
A few months before she graduated, troubled Codi, had to deal with a difficult birth as part of her medical practicum. The experience upset her so much she knew she could never practice medicine, and she dropped out of medical school, just a few months short of completing her degree. She ended up working in a Seven Eleven.
She received word that Dr. Homer, her father, was starting to show signs of dementia, and when she also heard that her old high school in Grace was seeking a science teacher, she applied, figuring if she did get the job, she could take care of her father. She was surprised at getting the position, and reluctantly took a bus back to Grace.
Returning to her small town was a shock, and teaching in her old high school an even greater shock. Their were a lot of ghosts she had to deal with, including Loyd, the once popular Apache young man, who had made her pregnant in high school. As a 15 year old high school student, Codi had to secretly deal with both the pregnancy and then a miscarriage which happened before her pregnancy became obvious, this left her traumatized and forever changed.
Like most novels about older characters moving back to their childhood homes, Animal Dreams is about discovering family secrets and finally being able to rid themselves of their emotional baggage and accept and like, who they are. Seeing Codi overcome her past and accept herself and the people around her in Grace, Arizona, was gratifying.
Besides liking the novel’s storyline, I was fascinated by being immersed in the environment and Hispanic society of the US Southwest. Kingsolver did an amazing job of settling the reader into the Hispanic community of small town Grace. I enjoyed reading about and learning more about their customs, like celebrating the Day of the Dead, where families picnic in the cemetery to share a meal with their dead ancestors.
I felt a special joy when I discovered that the novel took me to spectacular places that I have actually visited and I had fond memories of. I was happy to go with Codi and her partner, Loyd, now a train engineer, as they visited relatives at the Acoma Pueblo, which is perched unseen atop a mesa. I was nice to get a glimpse into the lives in a pueblo community, and re-awaken some of the memories I had of the place.
Also, Loyd took Codi to visit his relatives in Canyon de Chelly, one of the most memorable places I have ever seen, with its spectacular massive orange sandstone cliffs towering above the small meandering river and the sparsely spaced Navaho hogans, situated in the arid valley bottom.
The novel was well written and rich in many ways, I found it both enjoyable and rewarding to read.
My current painting is of an image from the Southwest. View it at: davidmarchant2.ca