Ellen's Reviews > The Beans of Egypt, Maine

The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute
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Oct 16, 10

Read in October, 2010

This book hit the spot. I don't know why. Maybe because I just moved to rural New England or maybe because I had a writer crush on Chute before I ever read any of her books, seeing that she is a populist political activist who writes about militias and owns an AK-47. I was just expecting to read about poor people, but I became pretty enamored of her writing style. Neither the characters nor the settings in this book are richly described. She never gives you any more information than you absolutely need. This minimalist use of language gives a mysterious feel to everything that's going on, almost as if you're looking in on these people through a keyhole and can never really see the full picture or get to know them very well, almost as if the characters are animals and you can only study them by what they say and do, not by what they think and feel. You have to rely a lot on the ears. Babies hiss. Men belch. The hammers pound away at a fancy house across the street. Gun shots are fired. Someone moans.

It's a short book packed full to the brim with characters, so even though the book feels shadowy, it is also teeming, about to spill over, which gives it a sense of overcrowding. I was worried that with so little information I wouldn't be able to keep all of these Beans straight, but I did, because the information that was given was the exact right information. It's a pretty dire picture of poverty that Chute paints, nothing romantically rustic here, but there are a few scenes spliced amongst all of the brutality and indifference and humiliation and coarse copulation that will take your breath away and give the story a quiet undercurrent of something like hope.
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