Barbara Kingsolver never disappoints, ‘Pigs in Heaven’ is no exception to this literary ‘rule.’ The novel is a essentially a sequel to the earlier ‘The Bean Trees,’ where a child is deposited on the front seat of a Taylor Greer’s Volkswagen in Oklahoma, close to a Cherokee reservation, by a Native American who immediately disappears. Taylor essentially keeps driving until her car breaks down in 1000 kilometres away in Arizona.
Roll the lives on three years from ‘The Bean Trees’ and, at a visit to the Hoover Dam, the ‘daughter’ who Taylor names Turtle due to her grip, notices someone fall into a drainage channel. A man with learning disabilities is eventually rescued and mother and ‘daughter’ appear on ‘Oprah’ as a result. One of the viewers is a lawyer from the Cherokee Nation who notices a Native American daughter with a mother that appeared not to be. The lawyer starts to dig a little deeper and Taylor, worried that she might lose Turtle, flees. A poverty-stricken road trip with cheap motels and worse jobs ensues which eventually ends up back at the Native American reserve at Heaven, Oklahoma.
Don’t expect a fast moving plot, it isn’t Kingsolver’s style – the narrative is subtle, thoughtful and thought-provoking; the real power of the writing lies in the warmth and depth of the characters, mostly women, women who have been left or have had to leave:
Women on their own run in Alice’s family. This dawns on her with the unkindness of a heart attack and she sits up in bed to get a closer look at her thoughts, which have collected above her in the dark.
There are men, but they are flawed and almost incidental to the plot:
She married him two years ago for love, or so she thought, and he’s a good enough man but a devotee of household silence. His idea of marriage is to spray WD-40 on anything that squeaks. … The quiet only subsides when Harland sleeps and his tonsils make up for lost time.
The final denouement is possibly a little contrived and leaves perhaps too many loose ends – it was probably deliberate, life doesn’t always have tidy endings, novels shouldn’t either. Perhaps part of the reasoning may have been leaving the door just slightly ajar, to allow the potential for developing the characters elsewhere.