Barbara Kingsolver’s Homeland and Other Stories is, like her other works, a masterpiece. This collection of twelve short stories chronicles the lives of very ordinary people that Kingsolver somehow manages to make incredibly interesting. I was particularly struck by her witty dialogue, and the depth of the characters she creates in just a few short pages.
The title story, Homeland, is set in a coal mining town named Morning Glory. A family of five, plus their paternal grandmother, called Grand Mam, live together in their modest home. Eventually, they take a short road trip so that Grand Mam can visit the area where she was born in Cherokee, North Carolina. The story is told through the eyes of the young granddaughter, Gloria, who has a special connection with her Native American grandmother. Each detail of the story, from the summary of family history information to the way that Morning Glory got its’ name, is absolutely delicious. Grand Mam’s parables and pearls of wisdom evoke a sense of nostalgia, a longing for something lost. Kingsolver uses events in the story, like Gloria trying to feed a caged buffalo dead grass upon arrival in Cherokee, to vividly paint the themes of the story. This particular image brought me to tears, making me both glad to be alive and haunted by what we’ve lost in the name of advancement. I found myself longing, like Grand Mam, for a different time and place, a simpler world.
Another of my favorites, Rose-Johnny, is also told through the narration of a young child, Georgann. Through a series of coincidences and childhood fibs, Georgann befriends Rose-Johnny, a feared and avoided character the entire town of Walnut Knobs seems to dislike. Her history is shadowy, and rumors fly about her sad life. As time passes and Georgeann learns the truth, or at least the version of truth a child can understand, she is confronted with deeper questions of racism and loyalty, and the consequences of her friendship to Rose-Johnny reach further than she could have imagined. This story is a beautiful picture of childhood innocence and curiosity, but also highlights the pain of losing that innocence and learning the truth about who people really are. I cracked up and cried – all within a few pages.
These stories, with artful ease, capture the humor and pain, the beauty and the injustice that make up the human experience. Anyone and everyone can relate to the cast of characters in these stories, and Kingsolver makes the most ordinary of moments, of average people on any average day, into an absolute experience.