Several years ago, at the recommendation of friends, I picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven. I found flat stereotypes for characters, predictable plotlines, and clichés intended as profundities; I couldn’t finish the books. Then I found The Poisonwood Bible (#19), a wonderful, evocative story, told beautifully. Since then, I’ve been hearing from several people that her next novel, Prodigal Summer, is also very good and I finally got to it.
Unfortunately, Prodigal Summer is a throwback to her former style. It reads like a summer romance with an environmental message that feels like so much propaganda, in spite of that fact that I agree with her—I can’t imagine how an anti-environmentalist would experience the book. Now, perhaps Kingsolver was aiming at summer romance (and, certainly, she does a good job of creating sexual tension, starting with the novel’s second paragraph); that could be fun. But add to this a heavy-handed moral—“procreation is the purpose of life,” a.k.a. “you won’t really be happy unless you have children in your life”—and we’ve got a recipe for one of the most disappointing books I’ve read in a long time. Prodigal’s last sentence is “Every choice is a world made new for the chosen.” I found myself wishing she’d chosen to make a world sans this book.