Monday, March 11, 2013

"The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver

"The Poisonwood Bible."  Where to start?  I wonder if I'm bothered with seasonal affective disorder, or if I'm just plain grumpy.  Because whenever I start asking myself what I'm going to write in this review, the answers aren't pretty.  I simply didn't like it.  It wasn't 100% awful, but I wasn't fond of it.

I had a hard time jumping into it.  A book needs to pull me in, make me hesitate to come up for air.  But this had no draw.  I forced myself to read through it like swimming in cement.

I hated The Reverend Nathan Price.  I mean, I think the reader is supposed to hate him.  I'd really be afraid of the mental stability of anyone who liked Nathan Price.  But he was such an unforgivable character.  He didn't change or learn or adapt.  He was psychotic.  He made me angry.  He didn't understand anything about human beings, American or African.  Zero redeeming qualities.

I also struggled with Orleanna Price until the middle of the book, where she finally gets to explain why she is who she is and how she got there.  I could forgive her zombie behavior after that.  She earned some redemption.

I felt nothing but sympathy for the poor daughters, who had no choice in ending up in Africa.  The twins I think had the purest souls, and Rachel was just vain and ignorant.  I was proud of Adah for moving past her deformity and allowing herself to create a new identity, and I felt pity for Leah for choosing a love and a life where she could never totally belong in any world.

There was no happiness in the book.  No hope.  No silver lining, not even a tarnished one. Everything was malaria and deadly politics.  That's not very generous of me.  But what about a happy scene (or two?) to propel the reader through all the poverty and illness?  I know the depictions of African history were real; life wasn't fair at all and always an uphill battle for survival. But the harsh reality doesn't mean they never had happy moments.  The book got me thinking about life and humanity, of course, but it was generally depressing.  Thank goodness for Rachel's narratives for some comic relief, which were only funny because she herself was a parasite trying to survive, not because she had two brain cells to rub together to spark her own wit.

And it wasn't what I would call a sad book.  Yes, there were many deaths and tragedies and set-backs.  But  to be sad there has to be some happiness sprinkled in it.  It was uninspiring.  And I think writing, no matter what genre, should inspire or motivate the reader in some form or measure.  And this book didn't just miss the mark, it wasn't even aiming in the right direction.

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