As a novice writer, I spend every moment buried in novels that evoke just about every emotion from me. My favorite novels, besides mysteries, are literary fiction by authors like Jhumpa Lahiri and Barbara Kingsolver, who sit at the top of my list of all-time favorites.
Whenever I read one of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels it always feels as though she’s speaking directly to me. It feels silly to say that I admire her characters and look to them for inspiration, but they’re the ones I connect to the most. Not real people. (Perhaps that’s why writing feels so natural to me.) I see bits of me mirrored in her characters Taylor (The Bean Trees) and Codi/Cosima (Animal Dreams). Their stories aren’t identical to mine. I just know exactly how it feels to run away in search of something, looking for a place to belong. Their dilemmas and life questions push away my loneliness and fill me with hope that if they could make it through tough times so can I.
Barbara also keeps me enthralled with her use of nature in her novels. It grounds the story and appeals to my love of the tangible world. When I’m reading, it feels like I’m drifting from my body into a like-minded character immersed in the world around them. I can picture the peacock’s blue and green shimmer in the shade of the orchards in Grace, Arizona and the bean trees growing despite the arid climate in Tucson, Arizona. I notice I stare out the window longer than usual when I’ve put the book down, taking in as much I can as if it all could disappear without notice.
This is why Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors. Her words, characters, and story stay with me long after I’ve finished reading. They never feel overdressed or forced. I love finding the moments that hit home hard and make me cry. Those moments release the anxiety and frustration, a catharsis. That’s why her novels are some of the few I’ve read over and over again.
Here’s a hard-hitting moment from Animal Dreams that inspired this post:
I’d come on this trip knowing I still had to leave Loyd in June, that Grace wouldn’t keep me, but maybe I was just keeping to the road. I felt guilt slip out of me like a stone. “It’s a nice thought,” I told him. “I guess I’ll probably carry something away with me when I leave Grace.”
He looked at me carefully, started to speak, then stopped. And then did speak. “It’s one thing to carry your life wherever you go. Another thing to always go looking for it somewhere else.”