"Animals dream about the things they do in the day time just like people do. If you want sweet dreams, you've got to live a sweet life." So says Loyd Peregrina, a handsome Apache trainman and latter-day philosopher. But when Codi Noline returns to her hometown, Loyd's advice is painfully out of her reach. Dreamless and at the end of her rope, Codi comes back to Grace, Arizona to confront her past and face her ailing, distant father. What the finds is a town threatened by a silent environmental catastrophe, some startling clues to her own identity, and a man whose view of the world could change the course of her life. Blending flashbacks, dreams, and Native American legends, Animal Dreams is a suspenseful love story and a moving exploration of life's largest commitments. With this work, the acclaimed author of The Bean Trees and Homeland and Other Stories sustains her familiar voice while giving readers her most remarkable book yet.
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August 01, 1991
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Excerpt from Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver
I am the sister who didn't go to war. I can only tell you my side of the story. Hallie is the one who went south, with her pickup truck and her crop-disease books and her heart dead set on a new world.
Who knows why people do what they do? I stood on a battleground once too, but it was forty years after the fighting was all over: northern France, in 1982, in a field where the farmers' plow blades kept turning up the skeletons of cows. They were the first casualties of the German occupation. In the sudden quiet after the evacuation the cows had died by the thousands in those pastures, slowly, lowing with pain from unmilked udders. But now the farmers who grew sugar beets in those fields were blessed, they said, by the bones. The soil was rich in calcium.
Three years later when my sister talked about leaving Tucson to work in the cotton fields around Chinandega, where farmers were getting ambushed while they walked home with their minds on dinner, all I could think of was France. Those long, flat fields of bone-fed green. Somehow we protect ourselves; it's the nearest I could come to imagining Nicaragua. Even though I know the bones in that ground aren't animal bones.
She left in August after the last rain of the season. Summer storms in the desert are violent things, and clean, they leave you feeling like you have cried. Hallie had never left me before. It was always the other way around, since I'm three years older and have had to do things first. She would just be catching up when I'd go again, swimming farther out into life because I still hadn't found a rock to stand on. Never because I wanted to leave. Hallie and I were so attached, like keenly mismatched Siamese twins conjoined at the back of the mind. We parted again and again and still each time it felt like a medical risk, as if we were being liberated at some terrible cost: the price of a shared organ. We never stopped feeling that knife.
But she went. And true to the laws of family physics, the equal and opposite reaction, I was soon packed up too and headed northeast on a Greyhound bus. In our divergent ways, I believe we were both headed home. I was bound for Grace, Arizona, where Hallie and I were born and raised, and where our father still lived and was said to be losing his mind. It was a Sunday. I had a window seat, and in a Greyhound you're up high. You pass through the land like some rajah on an elephant looking down on your kingdom, which in this case was a scorched bristling landscape and the tops of a lot of cars. It wasn't all that different from my usual view of life, because I'm tall, like my father and Hallie. I don't look like who I am. They do, but I don't.
It was midmorning when I stepped down off the bus in Grace, and I didn't recognize it. Even in fourteen years it couldn't have changed much, though, so I knew it was just me. Grace is made of things that erode too slowly to be noticed: red granite canyon walls, orchards of sturdy old fruit trees past their prime, a shamelessly unpolluted sky. The houses were built in no big hurry back when labor was taken for granted, and now were in no big hurry to decay. Arthritic mesquite trees grew out of impossible crevices in the cliffs, looking as if they could adapt to life on Mars if need be.
I was the only passenger getting off. The short, imperious bus driver opened the baggage door and made a show of dragging out luggage to get to mine, as if I were being difficult. A more accommodating woman, he implied, would be content with whatever bags happened to be right in front. Finally he slapped my two huge suitcases flat out in the dust. He slammed the doors and reclaimed his throne, causing the bus to bark like a dog, leaving a cloud of exhaust in the air, getting the last word, I suppose.