Pigs in Heaven is a sequel to Kingsolver’s Bean Tree her amazing book about a young girl Taylor on the run from a suffocating life in Kentucky where she is scared she is going to get pregnant like all the girls in her small town of Pittman. Instead on the way to Arizona she stops at service station/restaurant in the middle of nowhere, an Indian Reservation in Oklahoma, where she is “given” a 3-year old child that is a physical and mental wreck after suffering unspecified but obviously serious abuse. The young woman who gives her away had informal custody of the child when her sister, the mother, was unable to take care of the child. To save the young child from further abuse, in desperation she gives her up to a passing young white girl, Taylor. The book describes the strong bond that develops between the mother, Taylor, and her young child, Turtle. She adopts the name Turtle because she holds onto Taylor with a grip as tight as that of a turtle. She has found her safe harbour and won’t let go.
Pigs in Heaven continues the story of Taylor and Turtle 3 years later. I do not want to give away the plot. I hate reading reviews that do that. The book involves various ethical issues that arise out of the relationship of adoptive mother and child.
One of the characters in the book is a Native American woman with the ominous name of Annawake Fourkiller. Ominous name or not, Fourkiller, is smart and not without empathy. As she says, “I want to do the best for the most people.” That is a simple, but noble goal. Unfortunately life is not always simple, for she has a problem. It is a complicated problem. She thinks that like Shakespeare said, “I have to be cruel in order to be kind.”
The problem arises out of the deep gulf between Native American and American world views. Jax (named after the beer), Taylor’s loveable rogue boyfriend, a member of a band called appropriately, Irascible Children, explains the American ethos this way: “I heard the usual American thing. If you’re industrious and have clean thoughts you will grow up to be vice president of Motorola.” Annawake astutely diagnoses Jax’s attitude as typically American–individualistic. “Do right by yourself,” she says.
She contrasts that view with her own arising out of her Cherokee heritage. She said, “I had a hundred and one childhood myths and they all added more or less up to ‘Do right by your people.” She asks Jax if that is so bad. It’s clearly not bad, but its not the same as Jax’s myth. And there arises the conflict. It is a fascinating conflict. Annawake Fourkiller says “Some people say religion is finding yourself, and some people say it’s losing yourself in a crowd.”Jax can’t understand how that is possible. She says you lose yourself in a crowd at a dance. “Not like American Bandstand, not recreational dancing, it’s ceremonial. A group thing. It’s church for us.”
Of course part of the problem is Taylor. She is impetuous; she is a rebel. We knew that from the first book. We know that more deeply after reading the second. As her mother, Alice, says, “She’s independent as a hog on ice.” The relationship between Taylor and her mother also informs this book. Two tenacious mother/daughter relationships. As Alice says, “When you are given a brilliant child, you polish her and let her shine. The universe makes allowances.”But it also delivers powerful challenges.
At the end (which I don’t want to give away) the characters get a rare chance–“one of those rare chances life gives us to try and be the very best we are.” The book is about what they do with those chances. This is a wonderful book. I recommend it to one and all. Kingsolver is a great novelist. I am not sure she has got all the credit she deserves.