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A Very Nice Read

By Teabelly | Books | July 6, 2010 |

By Teabelly | Books | July 6, 2010 |

I’m a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver, and have been since I first read The Poisonwood Bible years ago, so I was very happy to receive two of her books for my birthday. The first one, Animal Dreams, is about Cosima (Codi) Noline, who returns to her hometown of Grace after 15 years away to look after her ailing father, Doc Homer. He is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and often relives moments of Codi’s childhood as if it is happening now. Codi’s younger sister Hallie has recently gone to Nicaragua to help local people learn farming techniques, and lives among many others who are trying to help while contending with the contras and the interference from the US. Codi is afraid for her sister, but also proud of her, that she can put others before herself, while Codi runs from most things.

While back in Grace, Codi works as a science teacher at the local high school and lives with an old friend, Emelina, who has five young sons. Codi was very close to following in her father’s footsteps and becoming a doctor, but she left after an incident made her realize she wasn’t cut out for that life. She has drifted in dead-end jobs ever since. She also reconnects with an old high school lover, Loyd, and through him learns more about Grace and the surrounding area, and begins putting together pieces of her past that she has almost completely wiped from her memory. There are some mysteries to be solved, like how her family didn’t come from Grace originally, yet the family name is in the graveyard, and just what Codi saw the day her mother died. There’s also a grassroots movement to save the town from developers who want to dam the river, which would kill off the surrounding orchards, and Grace’s main livelihood.

The story is told in different sections: in the first person by Codi, and the third person from her father’s perspective. Codi has always seen him as distant and cold, not understanding her or Hallie, and being the source of a lot of angst for them growing up. But his sections let us see how much he loved his daughters, and how much his illness is affecting his memory. I liked Codi for the most part, but she is incredibly flawed. Her response to most things is to run away, even when she has lots of reasons to stay. She feels like an outsider living in Grace, even though she grew up there, and never felt like she truly fit in (her mother and father having moved there from Illinois before she was born). But the outsider thing didn’t make a huge amount of sense to me, seeing as all the other characters in the book seem extremely welcoming of Codi, and understanding. And her father isn’t really that bad. She kept making comments about how ‘You don’t grow up like we did and not have issues,’ or something like that, but the most hateful thing I could see he did was not be as honest and open with his daughters as he could be, and making them wear orthopedic shoes to school. And since he was grieving for his wife, I think his behavior is mostly understandable. Mostly Codi creates problems for herself, which makes her hard to sympathize with at times.

Having said that, I did really enjoy the book. It was slow to get into at first, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. There is a lot of description to wade through, but since Kingsolver’s writing is so beautiful it’s not much of a hardship. I liked the other characters and getting snippets of their lives, and her relationship with Loyd was very lovely. One thing I would have liked more of was Hallie. She leaves ‘off screen,’ and we only get her point of view through her letters to Codi. I would have liked to have seen more interaction between the sisters. It’s clear there’s a lot of love there, but they’re very different and it would have been nice to have Hallie in there to tell Codi off every once in a while. I did find the ending to be very moving, if a little predictable, and though this book isn’t as good, or I suppose as ambitious, as The Poisonwood Bible, it was a very nice read. And I’m still very much looking forward to reading the second Kingsolver book that’s awaiting me.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Teabelly’s reviews, check out her blog

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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