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SMALL WONDER by Barbara Kingsolver



by Barbara Kingsolver

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-06-050407-2
Publisher: HarperCollins

Wearing her essayist hat, novelist Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible, 1998, etc.) responds to the September 11th terror attacks with a collection addressing the wonders of life.

In an effort to “burn and rave against the dying of all hope,” Kingsolver offers a contemplation of how we are blessed in our lives and urges us to consider the planet we live on and those with whom we share it. Her first two essays disjointedly consider how the September 11th attacks may have come about and voice her distress over our wastefulness as a nation: “Americans and Europeans spend $17 billion a year on pet food.” She then moves on to document her love affair with nature in an account of her two residences, one in Arizona and the other in Appalachia, where she works while looking at beautiful views. While she stresses repeatedly how blessed she is to have these twin retreats, it's somewhat jarring in conjunction with a preceding essay in which she writes, “For most of my life I've felt embarrassed by a facet of our national character that I would have to call prideful wastefulness.” Kingsolver continues to rend our nation's collective garment as she moves on to discuss the scarlet macaw and habitat loss in general; freeing a hermit crab in the context of letting go of a “hunger to possess”; her daughter's chickens and “the energy crime of food transportation”; and why she doesn't have a television. All of Kingsolver's issues are worthy, certainly, but the work is made less palatable by what seems to be a naïveté that surfaces when the author (mother of three) makes such statements as, “I can barely grasp the motives of a person who hits a child.” Her best pieces—a discussion of adolescence addressed to her daughter; an essay on the difficulties of writing about sex—have a narrow focus.

Good intentions and craft marred by sanctimony.