Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kingsolver Says `a Book Is a Gift' Novelist Bestows on Her Readers Fiction That Has a Heart

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Kingsolver Says `a Book Is a Gift' Novelist Bestows on Her Readers Fiction That Has a Heart

Article excerpt

FEW CONTEMPORARY writers bring to their craft and their readers the sense of compassion that drives Barbara Kingsolver.

In a time when the literary novel seems increasingly of marginal importance in people's lives, Kingsolver steadfastly believes in the transformative power of fiction and the writer's obligation to address issues of the day.

"If we as artists don't uphold that standard, or that obligation," she says, "then who can blame the public for thinking we're the luxury, we're the icing, we're the thing that can be cut out of the school curricula in a heartbeat? We can't expect to be considered essential to our community unless we behave in a way that is essential to the community.

"I think it's a luxury we can't afford to lose."

Kingsolver's fiction - sensitive, quirky and brimming with good feeling, sadness, the grace of her characters' self-discovery and, as she said, "hearts beating under pressure" - has won her an extraordinarily loyal and growing readership. The trend is unlikely to stop with her new, third novel, "Pigs in Heaven" (HarperCollins; $22).

Her first effort, "The Bean Trees" (1988), told the story of a young woman fleeing her hopeless Kentucky home, who was handed a new life, literally and providentially, in the form of an abandoned 3-year-old child, whom she adopted.

Two years later, "Animal Dreams" - about a biologist returning to her Arizona home and dealing with her ailing father, her own angst and her town's polluted river - secured Kingsolver's reputation as a writer of considerable literary talents who also could attract a popular following. For three years running, members of the American Booksellers Association have voted "Animal Dreams" among their favorite books.

In the last six years Kingsolver has published a collection of short stories ("Homeland"), a book of poetry ("Another America") and "Holding the Line," a non-fiction account of women involved in a labor strike at an Arizona mine.

"Pigs in Heaven" wasn't supposed to be a sequel to "The Bean Trees," but it turned out that way. It picks up the story of Taylor Greer and her adopted daughter, Turtle, three years later.

"I didn't expect to write about them again," Kingsolver explained in an interview recently at the American Booksellers Association convention in Miami Beach. She was speaking in her 14th-floor hotel room in nearby Bal Harbour, Fla., overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay.

"After `The Bean Trees' was published, a lot of people asked me what happens next: `Are you going to write a sequel telling what happens to Taylor and Turtle?' I was kind of grouchy about it. `That's your problem,' I thought. `I gave them to you.' That's how I think of a book. It's a gift. Those characters are yours and you can do whatever you want with them. Whatever you think should happen next, that's what happens.

"The idea of writing a sequel doesn't really interest me, because I always want to work at the edge of my powers. I always want to do something entirely new.

"So what happened was, I decided on the subject matter for `Pigs in Heaven. …

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