The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver

I knew I was going to get some good chuckles out of the book when I read the opening paragraph of Bean Trees:

“I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbine’s father over the top of the Standard Oil sign. I’m not lying. He got stuck up there. He wasn’t killed, but lost his hearing and in many other ways was not the same afterwards.” 

And I kept chuckling throughout the book. It’s funny but it also is a good story, really a series of good stories from beginning to end. The stories are intriguing, clever and wise.  Barbara Kingsolver has written a number of books but this is her first.  The “heroine,” Taylor Greer is a determined, spirited, and very likable young woman.  She has two goals in life: To move away from her home in rural Kentucky and not to get pregnant.  She heads off on her getaway adventure in her newly-purchased 1955 Volkswagen bug which, besides being unreliable mechanically, has no windows. No starter either, so it has to be push-started, preferably on a hill. She stuffs all the money she has into one pocket of her jeans and heads off.  

Taylor grew up poor, but she is resourceful. Her plan is to drive west and never look back until her car stops running, then settle wherever that takes her. She lands on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona on a Cherokee Indian reservation. She manages to drive her wobbling car off the highway and find a much-needed auto repair shop with the interesting name of “Jesus is Lord Used Tires.” Somewhere along the way, her trip takes a very unexpected turn. A woman places a small child wrapped in a large pink blanket into Taylor’s car, insisting that she must “Take this baby.” Taylor is too stunned to refuse and so becomes the instant mother of a three-year-old Native American Cherokee girl, a round-eyed child with a “cereal bowl haircut.” The child’s tiny hands grab and hold tightly onto everything she can reach, especially her new mother’s long braid. She also realizes that the child has been horribly physically and sexually abused. Perhaps because Turtle needs security as the result of the fear and pain she has suffered, her tiny little hands grab and hold tightly onto everything she can reach, especially her new mother’s long braid.  So Taylor names her little girl “Turtle” after mud turtles who also hold tightly to everything they can grab. 

Turtle becomes fascinated with beans, especially the purple beans from Wisteria trees and loves to collect and plant the beans, then dig them up. The little girl is also fascinated with horticultural magazines and books, anything that pictures vegetables and plants. Her quick mind helps her memorize the names and types of vegetables. In Tucson, Taylor meets and becomes good friends with Lou Ann Ruiz, whose husband has lost a leg in an accident. Lou Ann also has a child and the two women agree to move in together with their families.  From there on the book is filled with the sometimes touching and always humorous lives of the two women, their families and the events and everyday miracles in their lives. The Bean Trees is witty and wise and funny – a good read from start to finish.  I did not want it to end.

Gail Stilwill

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