Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reflections: The Bean Trees

Marietta is a level-headed, gutsy girl from Kentucky who gets through high-school and lands a boring, tedious job to make ends meet and support her mom's meager sustenance. She soon grows sick of her town, and her mentally corroding job and craves to reestablish her life in a new surrounding. She buys an old Volkswagen and sets off west with hardly any penny but with loads of good wishes from her mom. She trudges through Oklahoma and stops at a shady bar in a Native American neighborhood. After being drunk on her fear and worries, she stumbles into her car only to encounter a Native American woman plopping a little child into her car's backseat, requesting her to take the child away. In her half-delirious state she tries to protest but the lady disappears. The little girl looked around 2 years old and was staring at her through big black innocent eyes, vacant with fear. Perplexed that someone would abandon a child in the backseat of a drunk stranger's car, she drives to find a place to rest for the night. Quite contrary to most toddlers, the child obediently sits at the back, with not a whimper, despite rain lashing through the leaky windows. Soon, the numerous bruises and scars on the child's body bore evidence as to why she was probably safer with her. She names the child Turtle, for her characteristic behavior was to firmly latch onto anyone or anything with an iron grip. Marietta gives herself a fresh start by changing her name to Taylor, and sets out to straighten her life and that of Turtle's, in the city of Tuscon. In Tuscon, she meets many interesting people; one of them is a single mom on the verge of a divorce, utterly in denial and lacking in confidence. Together, the ladies offer solace to each other through their friendship and fight against the world's queer injustices. The story is eventually about the role of love, faith and friendships in the persistent battle of survival.

Marietta and her friend are polar opposites - the former is ready to take life by its horns, while the latter is paranoid of everything turning disastrous, and fumbles to feel her footing in reality. Through the course of the novel, both women gradually learn to accept and understand those aspects in life which cannot be controlled, and those that can be controlled. Their growth eventually leads them to make the best use of the cards dealt to them. The growth of the characters is quite well done. The story itself is quite straightforward and simple, without any superfluous twists. The plot merely reflects the mundane oddity of life.

Turtle is an endearing child who tugs at the heartstrings. I think Turtle is an extremely adorable pet-name for a baby! Kingsolver does a very refined job of showcasing the subtle emotional, physical and mental traumas of an abused child. Like many kids in the real world, Turtle is a resilient survivor. In comparison to this young child's strength, Taylor realizes how weak she really is in coping with loss and pain. I'm always touched by such kids' implicit faith, helplessness and silent endurance of all the world's insensitivity. The child really forms the heart of the novel, although her story is but another brook in the woods. Through the dynamics between Turtle and Taylor, Kingsolver explores the meaning of motherhood - the doubts, the limitations, the joys and the satisfaction.

But there is one low point. I unfortunately could not connect with Kingsolver's writing, although it was insightful, simple and down-to-earth, quite befitting the theme of the novel. I found it to be too wry and dry, very much like the desert lands of Arizona. Her parched, stripped down writing style struggled to keep my attention and interest. But I plodded along to make sure that everything turned alright for Turtle.

In all, The Bean Trees is a realistic story of life, inspiring and touching.

No comments: