This appreciation of Barbara Kingsolver combines new material with a partly revised Huffington Post piece I wrote in 2012.
Earlier this month, Barbara Kingsolver’s 2022 novel Demon Copperhead co-won (with Hernan Diaz’s Trust) the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
I’ve yet to get to Kingsolver’s reimagining of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, but I’ve read all her other novels, and she’s definitely a deserving award winner. One of my favorite living authors.
Why? She’s progressive, feminist, and her fiction often puts things in a sociopolitical context. But I think many open-minded people of any ideology would find Kingsolver’s work engaging, because her writing style is so fluid and her characters and plots take precedence over polemics. She can also be quite funny at times.
Kingsolver’s most famous novel is of course 1998’s The Poisonwood Bible, a 1999 Pulitzer finalist that should have been the author’s first Pulitzer win. That book is about colonialism, evangelicalism, and other topics, but it’s mostly about the Price family — arrogant missionary father Nathan, long-suffering but ultimately independent mother Orleanna, and their four fascinating daughters.
Just two years later came another Kingsolver masterpiece, albeit one not quite as ambitious. That was 2000’s Prodigal Summer, which weaves three separate characters/plot lines into a very satisfying, interconnected whole. While ecological concerns infuse the novel, it’s the three protagonists (park ranger Deanna, farm widow Lusa, and tree expert Garnett) who stick in a reader’s mind.
In 2009, Kingsolver’s The Lacuna was published. Again, the author used her fiction to address sociopolitical matters (such as getting smeared during the McCarthy era and being gay), but main characters Harrison William Shepherd (who eventually becomes a novelist) and Violet Brown (his delightful and efficient secretary) are memorable creations. Plus real-life historical figures Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky, and (briefly) Richard Nixon appear in the book’s pages.
Then came the absorbing Flight Behavior in 2012, about a farm woman (Dellarobia Turnbow) in an unhappy marriage who changes her life even as the climate is changing — a major sub-theme of the book.
In 2018, Kingsolver kept the compelling novels coming with Unsheltered, which I discussed in this blog post a couple months ago.
The 1956-born author’s earlier novels — The Bean Trees (1988), Animal Dreams (1990), and Pigs in Heaven (1993) — are not as multifaceted but still very good, as are her short-story collections such as Homeland.
Kingsolver’s canon also includes nonfiction releases such as Animal, Vegetable, Miracle — about the benefits of eating locally grown, unprocessed foods.
(That skilled 2007 book occasionally goes on interesting tangents, such as when Kingsolver mentions her inclusion in right-winger Bernard Goldberg’s biased 2005 book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. All 100 of Goldberg’s subjects were left-of-center, and most of them admirable people. Kingsolver was a good sport about that “honor,” writing: “My thrilling new status had no impact on my household position. I still had to wait till the comics were read to get the Sudoku puzzle, and the dog ignored me as usual.”)
If you’ve read Kingsolver, what are your thoughts about her work? Or, if you’d like, you could mention some of your favorite living authors. Among mine, besides Kingsolver, are (in alphabetical order) Isabel Allende, Margaret Atwood, Lee Child, Fannie Flagg, John Grisham, Liane Moriarty, J.K. Rowling, Zadie Smith, and Amor Towles, to name just a few.
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — which uses a Wizard of Oz theme to lament school district budget cuts and municipal secrecy — is here.