Barbara Kingsolver is getting lazy. In her new book of essays, “Small Wonder,” Kingsolver proves she has reached the point of recognition where readers will pick up any work that has her name attached, despite the quality.
Granted, Kingsolver has earned such recognition. With a variety of published works ranging from poetry to non-fiction to a sequence of novels to her masterpiece and highly acclaimed historical fiction “Poisonwood Bible,” Kingsolver has proved she is versatile, ever-changing and an experimenter of style.
But as many public figures became sappy and condescending in the aftermath of Sept. 11, Kingsolver haphazardly compiled her second book of essays with no organization, no new ideas and no real literary meat.
In her first book of essays, “High Tide in Tucson,” Kingsolver explored a variety of subjects including childhood, motherhood, environmental degradation and cultural awareness. She shared her struggles and insight in a humble, entertaining and enlightening fashion. At times, she is poignantly persuasive. Her background in biology, the Appalachian Mountains and Southwestern lifestyles permitted her writings as she explored a new subject on nearly every page.
However, in “Small Wonder” she loses her edge. While she can articulate and present her political views and reflections on the terrorist attacks better than the average citizen, the reader still has to wonder why her comments are worthy of time and money. She offers no new information, no argument that hasn’t surfaced and no new insight that hasn’t been published in newspapers and magazines across the country.
Kingsolver does stick to her appealing style and prose structure – fascinating descriptive and cynically humorous – but much less than an avid reader is used to in her other books. The subject matter is just not enticing. The events deserve more than Kingsolver’s personal agendas and seethings. Even a devoted liberal will find her writing in this book lacking her usual gusto, wit and intelligence, even if they do agree with her political stance.
Kingsolver has not alienated her readers. She has every right to think a compilation of essays about Sept. 11 would be justified, bought and read considering her previous successes. But readers don’t want to read her personal journal rantings; we want to read her thoughtful and thought-out ideas and reflections. She can deal with her emotions in her own way, just as every other citizen without a publisher has to. Now she has gotten this off her chest, she can turn her focus back to her profession and talent: writing for a devoted audience instead of for her own mind-clearing purposes.