The Bean Trees


The Bean Trees
Taylor (born Marietta) grew up in Pittman, Kentucky, a small rural town where families "had kids just about as fast as they could fall down the well and drown," and a boy with a job as a gas-meter man was considered a "high-class catch." She needs to get out to get ahead and to avoid pregnancy. She succeeds on both counts when she buys a '55 Volkswagen and heads west. She leaves almost everything behind, including her name. (Taylor is the name she adopts when she runs out of gas in Taylorville, Illinois.) When her steering fails somewhere in central Oklahoma, in country owned by the Cherokee nation, she stops for repairs at a roadside service station. A Cherokee woman looks at Taylor and sees a chance for her dead sister's child to escape a life of abuse and alcoholism. She hands the child over to Taylor and disappears. Taylor's journey of self-discovery suddenly becomes a transition into a relationship where she is not the most important person.

Taylor and her adopted child, Turtle, travel to Tucson, Arizona, where more car troubles land them at a shop known as Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. The owner of this odd establishment is a woman named Mattie, a serene, big-hearted soul who shelters political refugees from Guatemala, and who gives Taylor a job. Taylor and Turtle find a room with Lou Ann Ruiz, a self-described "ordinary Kentuckian a long way from home," and her newborn baby Dwayne Ray. The relationship between these two single mothers, one never married, one divorcing, and their relationships with the people around them are the focus of the story. After a few months, Taylor needs to rent an apartment. She ends up sharing an apartment with Lou Ann and her son, Dwayne Ray. Together Taylor, Turtle, Mattie, two refugees, Lou Ann and Dwayne Ray learn about friendship and belonging. Their lessons are learned through many experiences, including confrontations with Lou Ann's ex-husband, Angel, Dr. Pelinowsky, and others they meet along the way. Ties of family, friends, blood and love are what sustain the characters through hard times and heartbreaks. The supportive connections between people are likened to a symbiosis, interdependency in the most positive sense.

It didn't seem to matter to Turtle, she was happy where she was. The sky went from dust-color to gray and then cool black sparked with stars, and she was still wide awake. She watched the dark highway and entertained me with her vegetable-soup song, except that now there were people mixed in with the beans and potatoes: Dwayne Ray, Mattie, Esperanze, Lou Ann and all the rest. At the end of this novel Tylor ends up adopting Turtle by faking out the adoption papers with Esperanze and Esteven being the parents because they looked much like her and agreed to sign the papers for her.

Kingsolver's story has a definite point of conflict and resolution; having a child handed to you at a cafe without legal adoptions. With no way of determining who Turtle's relatives may be, Taylor is unable to formalize her relationship with her adopted daughter, and is at risk of losing her to the state. Her journey back to Oklahoma to try to find a solution to the problem brings the story full circle. But this time, she has friends with her, and ultimately it is her willingness to help them in their hour of need, and their willingness to do the same, that proves to be Taylor and Turtle's salvation. The moving, cathartic scene in which the crisis peaks paves the way for the satisfying resolution.

The Bean Trees is a story about personal journeys of self-discovery, as well as larger themes of commitment and risk-taking. Taylor Greer finds something in this abandoned Indian child, Turtle that she didn't know she was missing, and which she rapidly becomes unable to live without. The transformation of instant motherhood causes her to reevaluate her relationships with others, especially her own mother. In a way, Taylor is experiencing a moment we all go through, when our parents turn suddenly into human beings. The old women who volunteer as babysitters, the Chinese grocer down the street, and particularly the Guatemalan refugees who have survived tragedies she can not imagine, all reveal a special value to Taylor as she learns to