okyrhoe's Reviews > Small Wonder

Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver
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Jul 27, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: bookcrossing, u-s-a
Read in September, 2006

In general terms I, too, am on the same side of the fence as Kingsolver. Maybe that’s why I was disappointed to find that this was not as engaging a read as I expected it to be.
As I was reading through these post-9/11 "essays" I found it increasingly difficult to be sympathetic with Kingsolver's earthmother-y stance, her frequent recourse to phrases such as 'balance,' 'salvation,' 'spirit' and 'small wonder' in the face of pressing global political and environmental issues. These are generalities that sound very nice, but practically speaking, can mean different things to each reader. Or worse, they can mean nothing at all. I wish Kingsolver would be more specific and precise when offering her viewpoints or even her advice.
Speaking of 9-11, Kingsolver writes, "This new enemy is not a person or a place, it isn't a country; it is a pure and fearsome ire as widespread as some raw element like fire. I can't sensibly declare war on fire, or reasonably pretend that it lives in a secret hideout like some comic-book villain, irrationally waiting while my superhero locates it and then drags it out to the thrill of my applause."
One cannot reduce human beings, no matter how disagreeable their ideologies or their destructive their actions, to a metaphysical abstract. I get the sense, by the end of this collection, that Kingsolver has the tendency to perceive the 'enemies' in what she considers the pressing issues of the day through the prism of morality and abstraction. She makes it seem as if by being a responsive mother, a conscientious gardener, or a socially-conscious consumer, then the inherent benevolence of her convictions and her life choices will act as mental duct-tape and shield her from the existential angst of the post-9/11 reality.
When discussing specific issues - ecology, global warming, genetically modified food, poverty, etc. - it’s irritating when she shies away from specifically identifying those 'other people' she perceives as the 'evildoers.' She tells us of the dangers of GMOs, for example, but does not venture to name names, to identify the governments, multinational companies, etc. which are releasing these organisms/foodstuffs into the market without notifying us or soliciting our consent. If she is a biologist, a scientist, then she must be aware of exactly who or what is behind this movement, and I expect her to inform the reader on this count.
Maybe she assumes we’ve already done our ‘homework’ and are informed on these matters. But if that is so, then why does she waste her breath on such a truly pedantic argument against television (“The One-Eyed Monster, or Why I Don’t Let Him In”)? Come on, we all know too much TV is no good, regardless of the many reasons why.
It's only in the last essay, "God's Wife's Measuring Spoons," that she begins to take a less dove-ish stance. Unfortunately, by this point, the 'enemies' she's railing against are her critics. After having enjoyed reading her fiction, I didn't think I'd end up being one myself.
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10/15/2016 marked as: read

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message 1: by AJ (new) - added it

AJ Flamingo Thank you. I started this but it doesn't hold my attention in the same way her novels do. I'm less than impressed with this marvelous writer's non-fiction. I began to question my inability to enjoy this, blaming it on some fault of my own. Maybe when I run out of books, I will go back to it.


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