It was only when I was trying to see if there really was a place called Heaven in Oklahoma that I became aware that Barbara Kingsolver‘s Pigs in Heaven (Faber, 1993) was actually a sequel (to 1998’s The bean trees), though it was her breakthrough book. It’s great. It’s where my opening quote comes from, but – no other spoilers, but, rest assured, nobody gets hit by a train. I read it slowly so as not to miss a single delightful nuance in the prose. Like:
- His idea of marriage is to spray WD-40 on anything that squeaks.
- Alice wonders if other women in the middle of the night have begun to resent their Formica.
and that’s just the first two pages. Then’s there’s the description all tied beautifully in, like this on the same page as the Formica:
The neighbourhood tomcat, all muscle and slide, is creeping along the top of the trellis where Alice’s sweet peas have spent themselves all spring. She’s seen him up there before, getting high on the night perfume, or imagining the taste of mockingbird. The garden Alice wishes she could abandon is crowded with bird music and border disputes and other people’s hungry animals. She feels like the queen of some pitiful, festive land.
Pigs in Heaven is concerned with many things: family, belonging and commitment; the survival of the Cherokee Nation, mixed race adoption and child custody. It is also a classic American road trip (on the road but not for the buzz of it), a tale of fateful twists and contingency, it’s full of conflicting good intentions, of youthful idealism and an older wisdom. The main players are all women, but the men have their uses in the end. (“She feels she has died and gone to the Planet of Men Who Cook.”) All are interesting at the very least. Turtle, an abandoned (that happened in The Bean Tree) and damaged 6-year-old is the plot driver, but unlike a lot of fictional children, she’s not annoying at all. There’s even a decent fictional musician (his band the Irascible Babies break up, but here come Renaissance Cowboys).
So many passages I’m dying to quote. Like Cash, doing traditional Cherokee beadwork for tourists, to earn a spare dime:
… but since he started putting beads on his needle each night, his eye never stops counting rows: pine trees on the mountainsides, boards in a fence, kernels on the ear of corn as he drops it into the kettle. He can’t stop the habit, it satisfies the ache in the back of his brain, as if it might fill in his life’s terrible gaps. His mind is lining things up, making jewellery for someone the size of god.
Or a short-term travelling companion who’s “accepted Barbie as her personal saviour.” Prompting the thought:
Like Lucky Buster, Barbie doesn’t strike all the right chords as a true adult. Taylor wonders if this is some new national trend like a crop disease. Failure to mature. Taylor matured at age nine, she feels, on a day she remembers … “You don’t have to talk to her, that’s the cleaning lady’s girl”
(I find myself saying, “Grow up” at the television an awful lot lately.) Or the poetry of:
Along the highway the cornfields lie newly flayed, mile after mile, their green skin pulled back to reveal Oklahoma’s flesh of orange velvet dirt. The uncultivated hills nearby show of a new summer wardrobe of wildflowers. The massed reds flecked with gold are Indian blanket; Cash recalls the name with pleasure, like a precious possession lost and retrieved. He fixes the radio on the sweet, torn voice of George Jones and breathes deeply of the air near home.
I’ve not the time for much plot here, but the book is a delight; I loved it. And although the Native Indian experience is significant – and the ancient and modern ritual Stomp Dance is a riveting episode near the end – there’s also a broader canvas drawn – Americana, no less; it made me think of Bob Dylan‘s Basement Tapes, of that ‘weird, old America’ it summoned up even in the mixed-up confusion of the modern world. Like this song (a version here by two of the Roche Sisters):
And another tune that I couldn’t keep away, James McMurtry‘s awesome Choctaw Bingo. The climax of Pigs in Heaven takes place in a meeting room where there’s a poster advertising a debate to be held in the same building, as to whether or no the community should adopt the Choctaw Bingo route to financial security. What the song describes mostly happens off-page in Pigs in Heaven, but it’s undeniably there at source:
Meanwhile, backtracking …
… old news, a stomach bug and a vicious summer cold ago, Illyria came to town. Arrived late to cheers and applause on the back of an AA transporter and proceeded with great dedication to erect their stage on the lawn in front of Linford Manor and get right on with a performance of A midsummer night’s dream only an hour and a bit late. Luckily the weather held though it got a bit chilly towards the end. Great little company, obviously full of talent, versatility, energy and commitment.
Shame about the production, then, which was … shouty. If you’d closed your eyes and didn’t know the play it would have been hard to distinguish which of the three kingdoms of the play – the nobility, the rude mechanicals, the Faeries – were on. And I couldn’t get behind a twitching Puck with ADHD. Shakespearista friend left more than tutting at half-time. Shame. That said, the children in the audience were obviously enjoying it greatly so, regardless, some sort of win for the bard. And there was some tremendous acrobatic physical humour in the second half.
Same weekend, Medieval stuff. Bigger and better than last year, so building nicely. Actual full-gear – an illuminating demonstration – combat (no, not really real, but it looked tiring enough), so what with that and the return of Robot Wars to television later that evening, a touch of Sunday ultra-violence to see out July.
Have I got anything to say about the Olympics? Not really, though I watched a lot of stuff I wouldn’t normally watch. Liked Mark Cavendish’s interviews, was moved by Michael Johnson’s mini-essay about Jesse Owens, got sick of Phil and his microphone. And not just him, but that question: “How does it feel?”; and that answer: “Unbelievable”.