November 13, 2007

Review of Animal Dreams

Animal Dreams"Animals dream about the things they do in the day time just like people do. If you want sweet dreams, you've got to live a sweet life." So says Loyd Peregrina, a handsome Apache trainman and latter-day philosopher. But when Codi Noline returns to her hometown, Loyd's advice is painfully out of her reach. Dreamless and at the end of her rope, Codi comes back to Grace, Arizona to confront her past and face her ailing, distant father. What the finds is a town threatened by a silent environmental catastrophe, some startling clues to her own identity, and a man whose view of the world could change the course of her life. Blending flashbacks, dreams, and Native American legends, Animal Dreams is a suspenseful love story and a moving exploration of life's largest commitments. With this work, the acclaimed author of The Bean Trees and Homeland and Other Stories sustains her familiar voice while giving readers her most remarkable book yet.Here's a typical passage from pgs. 3-4:The Night of All Souls

His two girls are curled together like animals whose habit is to sleep underground, in the smallest space possible. Cosima knows she's the older, even when she's unconscious: one of her arms lies over Halimeda's shoulder as if she intends to protect them both from their bad dreams. Dr. Homer Noline holds his breath, trying to see movement there in the darkness, the way he's watched pregnant women close their eyes and listen inside themselves trying to feel life.

A slice of white moon from the window divides their bodies deeply into light and shadow, but not one from the other. No light could show where one body ends and the other begins when they're sleeping like this. Maybe a mother's eye could tell, but that is the one possibility that can't be tried.
Rob's review:  Animal Dreams is Barbara Kingsolver's second novel. It's as good as her first novel, The Bean Trees, and almost as good as her third novel, Pigs in Heaven. All three have a Southwest or indigenous flavor.

In Animal Dreams, Cosima (Codi) is like many mainstream Americans: rootless and lost. She's taken in by the predominantly Latino people of Grace and given a home. By the end of the novel, she knows where she belongs.

Loyd, her Indian paramour, teaches her about life and love. He shows her an ancient ruin, gives her a tour of Canyon de Chelley, and brings her to meet his family in the fictional Santa Rosalia Pueblo.

The Indian aspects

As a strong, handsome, ladies' man, Loyd is a bit of a cliché. But he's also a railroad engineer, a homeowner, and a former drinker who's reformed. He's the one who's serious about the relationship.

Even though Loyd is a supporting character, Animal Dreams arguably counts as Native fiction. It's his worldview that Codi learns to appreciate. The whole town has similar values: a Latino/indigenous regard for children and elders, family and community.

Animal Dream's passages about Native cultures aren't deep. It's as if Kingsolver read a couple of books on Southwest Indians and borrowed from them. But since she relates the cultural bits from an outsider's point of view, they work well enough.

By the numbers

Here are my ratings for the four Kingsolver books I've read:

The Bean Trees:  8.5.
Animal Dreams:  8.5.
Pigs in Heaven:  9.0.
Prodigal Summer:  8.0.

So Kingsolver is averaging an 8.5, a level few authors reach even once. Does any writer I've read have a better record? Not that I can think of.

If that isn't enough, she's also a PEACE PARTY fan. What else do you need to know? If you haven't read any of Kingsolver's books, I strongly recommend them.

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