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Animal Dreams Paperback – June 21, 1991
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"Kingsolver is a writer of rare ambition and unequivocal talent . . . Animal Dreams is a complex, passionate, bravely challenging book." -- -- Chicago Tribune
About the Author
Barbara Kingsolver's work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has earned a devoted readership at home and abroad. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal, our country's highest honor for service through the arts. She received the 2011 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for the body of her work, and in 2010 won Britain's Orange Prize for The Lacuna. Before she made her living as a writer, Kingsolver earned degrees in biology and worked as a scientist. She now lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia.
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Set in the American Southwest, this novel explores politics, nature, mountains, deserts, abandoned adobe villages set in steep cliff faces, American ladies descended from Spain, Mexican Americans and Native Americans, cockfights, a mining company, polluted rivers, high school teenagers, a younger sister off to help the rural poor in Nicaragua, jealosy, living under the shadow of a super sibling, family ties in a Hispanic dominated Arizona town, a father stricken with dementia, and the ghosts of a mother who died right after childbirth and a daughter who never knew the light of day.
Kingsolver is her laconic, self-deprecating self, her words painting crystal clear images of the people and places her protagonist meets and visits. From a plane high above the desert "Bright backyard swimming pools gleamed like turquoise nuggets."
But Ms. Kingsolver wears her politics on her sleeve, and at times one wonders if one is reading a book of fiction or a political manifesto. It is too bad that revolutions nor socialism work for they are often good ideas.
Still, the local battle against the company mine is victorious, and the Stitch and Bitch club can stop selling their peacock pinatas in Tuscon and go back to more urgent matters, such as sewing and gossiping, or "bitching.'
This is a story, like most Kingsolver novels, about a lot of different things, but mostly it is about a woman named Codi Noline (who discovers het name is actually Nolina) trying, and finding, her place in the world.
I really wanted to like this book. Especially since The Poisonwood Bible is one of my all-time favorites. I ordered Animal Dreams with high expectations, based on the overwhelmingly positive reviews. I don't know what happened but I am a little over halfway through Animal Dreams and I am so terribly let down. I will say that Kingsolver is an immensely talented writer who certainly knows how to turn a phrase and use descriptive imagery. The main problem with Animal Dreams is that it is so boring. You know it’s bad when the height of the action is a cock fight. I detest animal cruelty and have to wonder why Kingsolver even included this as it added nothing to her main male protagonist besides make me wonder why Cosima would even continue to be with him after witnessing his participation in such an event. The fact that he immediately quits upon learning that Cosima disapproves of his life-long “hobby” struck me as very unrealistic and insincere. Is Loyd such a weak and immoral person that he couldn’t recognize the brutality of this “sport” until Cosima pointed it out to him? Is he quitting just so he can continue getting laid? Or is he so crazy in love with Cosima (after a few weeks of dating) that he will give up his beloved hobby in an instant to please her? It saddens me to admit that I don’t really care. I stopped believing this story about a hundred pages in and have not found any reason yet to change my mind.
Another big problem I am having with this book is the unrealistic characters. I enjoy complicated characterization and expect them to be flawed as most normal human beings are. I gather so far that main protagonist Cosima puts very little effort into her looks, career or personality but is a “rockstar” who sports a Billy Idol haircut and effortlessly wins the heart of studly Loyd. Her sister Hallie is a “supermodel” farmer with a heart of gold who is busy saving the world. Hallie's story actually sounds like it would be infinitely more interesting than Cosima's but sadly we just don't get too much of Hallie in this book. Their father Doc Homer is so emotionally aloof as to appear almost robotic and adds almost no real depth to the tale, though he could have. The poor old guy only makes the plot more cumbersome and plodding, but it’s not his fault. I sense there was a much more interesting person in there somewhere but Kingsolver would not let us meet him.
New boyfriend and former lover Loyd is portrayed as some kind of ladies man with a heart of gold in spite of his enjoyment of cock fighting and a checkered past. Cosima’s “best friend” Emelina is a married stay at home mother with a whole litter of children who maintains a perfect figure and a perfect marriage and as far as I can tell, perfectly dull children. These characters are almost caricature like with their total lack of realistic human qualities. I just cannot relate to any of these people and their “struggles”.
Cosima returns to her home town of Grace, Arizona to stay with Emelina in her pretty little house in the middle of a pretty little orchard and all of these transitions are effortless. There’s no real conflict presented as would normally exist in the real world. No, this rock star of a person Cosima moves back to her hometown and immediately lands a job, a studly boyfriend and perfect little house to live in with the perfect little family. The resulting story is just resoundingly dull.
Nothing happens to add any kind of depth, complexity or conflict to this tale or the people in it. Sure we have a few remnants of Cosima’s past and her complicated relationship with her father, but not nearly enough plot development to base an entire novel on. Kingsolver was perfectly capable of fleshing this story out and making it meaningful and compelling but for some reason did not. I wonder if this was an attempt at chick lit to appeal to a larger audience since The Poisonwood Bible is a magnificent book, but clearly not for everyone.
There is very little dramatic appeal to this book. Simply put, not much actually happens, besides the cock fight and Cosima selling some peacock pinatas in an attempt to save her home town. I agree with the other reviewers who believe that the environmental angle was thrown into the story in an attempt to elevate it a notch or two above boring chick lit. I will go ahead and finish this book though at this point there is little it could do to redeem itself. I am very disappointed but I do forgive Ms. Kingsolver for boring me to death. I still consider her a very gifted and accomplished author and encourage my fellow readers to skip this book and read The Poisonwood Bible instead.