1989 - Homeland
Barbara Kingsolver is my favorite author. She is a writer whose work embodies everything I love about reading: clear, eloquent prose; single phrases that illuminate entirely new perspectives; masterful weaving of several and varied plots into one coherent and powerful message. There is very little she has written that I haven't already read but I knew I had to work her into my list somehow. Homeland, a collection of short stories published in 1989, was my way in.
The twelve stories that make up this collection had an unexpected commonality: they are all told from a woman's point of view. The stories range in nearly every other way: time, place, major theme. But through each story, Kingsolver weaves this underlying thread of the female sense of connection to whatever "home" may mean.
My favorite three stories from the collection were the titular "Homeland," the telling of a grandmother's return to a place she cannot recognize; "Blueprints," about the headiness in relationships when one partner moves for the other; and "Why I am a Danger to the Public," the story of a single working mother caught in the social and moral tug-of-war on the front line of a mine strike. Kingsolver's writing is so good that I'm somewhat embarrassed by my meager one-sentence summaries. To give a better sense of her writing style, here is one of my favorite passages from the collection:
"As I looked at her there among the pumpkins I was overcome with color and the intensity of life. In these moments we are driven to try and hoard happiness by taking photographs, but I know better. The important thing was what the colors stood for, the taste of hard apples and the existence of Lena and the exact quality of the sun on the last warm day in October. A photograph would have flattened the scene into a happy moment, whereas what I felt was gut rapture. The fleeting certainty that I deserved the space I'd been taking up on this earth, and all the air I had breathed." p. 55
Her descriptive skills are staggering. Perhaps she and I have similar interpretations of our surroundings and that is why her writing hits home. More likely, she is simply a masterful writer. Authors of compelling short stories must be in a medium where every word counts. The short story is a little nugget of finely honed fiction, entirely consumable in one sitting. It is an appealing genre when life requires more than getting lost in a book for an evening. I read my fair share as an English major, though surprisingly few have stuck with me since then. One in particular is "Axolotl" by Julio Cortazar, a fever dream of magical realism, transfiguration, and shifting perspectives. I hope to one day read it in the original Spanish. For now, though, below are three other recently published (in English) short story collections that I'm recommending as read-a-likes for Homeland.
- American Housewife by Helen Ellis
- Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
- Tenth of December by George Saunders
Keep turning the page,