Monday, August 08, 2011

Animal Dreams

The title of Animal Dreams refers to (and I don't think I'm ruining it for you by telling) one character's theory that animals dreams are not that complicated - that they most likely dreams about what they do all day. One of the themes of this book is that humans are like animals, we're motivated by sex and basic needs and mostly sex. I don't agree with that, but Barbara Kingsolver makes a good case for it.
The baby signed and stirred in his crib. At seven months, he was just the size of a big jackrabbit - the same amount of meat. The back of my scalp and neck prickled. It's an involuntary muscle contraction that causes that, setting the hair follicles on edge; if we had manes they would bristle exactly like a growling dog's. We're animals. We're born like every other mammal and we live our whole lives around disguised animal thoughts. There's no sense pretending. Tomorrow, I thought, or the next day, or the day after that, I would have sex with Loyd Peregrina.

In Animal Dreams, Codi returns to her hometown after a long absence to watch over her inattentive father. Kingsolver tells Codi's story really beautifully, letting details spill out over time, and even including an environmental twist without lecturing the reader (I thought this book had a lot in common with the great My Year of Meats and Annie Proulx's That Old Ace in the Hole). Codi starts dating her old high school boyfriend, an Apache, who takes her to see old ruins of American Indian sites - Kingsolver describes these marvelous places so vividly I wanted to take an immediate road trip to Arizona. (see: Kinishba!) I have a vague memory of reading something by Flannery O'Connor that made me feel the same way but I can't for the life of me remember the name.

While Animals Dreams is unbelievably beautifully written, it's depressing as hell. Among the hands-off parenting atrocities practiced by her widowed father was listening to his teen-aged daughter have a miscarriage in the bathroom and then bury the fetus in the yard without interfering. For example.

But then there's this:
I'd finished my shopping in a few minutes, and while I waited for Emelina to revision her troops for the week I stood looking helplessly at the cans of vegetables and soup that all carried some secret mission. The grocery shelves seemed to have been stocked for the people of Grace with the care of a family fallout shelter. I was an outsider to this nurturing. When the cashier asked, "Do you need anything else?" I almost cried. I wanted to say, "I need everything you have."

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