"There is no one quite like Barbara Kingsolver in contemporary literature," raves the Washington Post Book World, and it is right. She has been nominated three times for the ABBY award, and her critically acclaimed writings consistently enjoy spectacular commercial success as they entertain and touch her legions of loyal fans.
In High Tide in Tucson, she returnsto her familiar themes of family, community, the common good and the natural world. The title essay considers Buster, a hermit crab that accidentally stows away on Kingsolver's return trip from the Bahamas to her desert home, and turns out to have manic-depressive tendencies. Buster is running around for all he's worth -- one can only presume it's high tide in Tucson. Kingsolver brings a moral vision and refreshing sense of humor to subjects ranging from modern motherhood to the history of private property to the suspended citizenship of human beings in the Animal Kingdom.
Beautifully packaged, with original illustrations by well-known illustrator Paul Mirocha, these wise lessons on the urgent business of being alive make it a perfect gift for Kingsolver's many fans.
Novelist Kingsolver (Pigs in Heaven) is not one to let her miscellany stagnate; she has revised or expanded many of the 25 essays included here, most of which have previously been published, and yes, there are thematic links in her view of family, writing, politics and places. The strongest link is Kingsolver's wise and spirited voice, animated by poetic and precise language. A Kentucky transplant to Arizona, Kingsolver recounts the triumph and pathos of her return home as a novelist; she also delights in recollecting her role in the notorious Rock Bottom Remainders, the band of writers famous for their ABA performances. "Raising children is a patient alchemy," she declares; indeed, her self-imposed exile during the Gulf War led her to Spain's Canary Islands and an atmosphere of much greater affection for kids. Reports from Benin and Hawaii, even her aquarium, show the author to be a curious and sensitive observer. Most telling perhaps are Kingsolver's reflections on her mission: because it aims to convey truths we know but can't feel, "[g]ood art is political, whether it means to be or not." Illustrations. Literary Guild alternate.
-ood art is political, whether it means to be or not." Illustrations. Literary Guild alternate.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 09, 1996
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Excerpt from High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver
High Tide in Tucson
A hermit crab lives in my house. Here in the desert he's hiding out from local animal ordinances, at minimum, and maybe even the international laws of native-species transport. For sure, he's an outlaw against nature. So be it.
He arrived as a stowaway two Octobers ago. I had spent a week in the Bahamas, and while I was there, wishing my daughter could see those sparkling blue bays and sandy coves, I did exactly what she would have done: I collected shells. Spiky murexes, smooth purple moon shells, ancient-looking whelks sand-blasted by the tide--I tucked them in the pockets of my shirt and shorts until my lumpy, suspect hemlines gave me away, like a refugee smuggling the family fortune. When it was time to go home, I rinsed my loot in the sink and packed it carefully into a plastic carton, then nested it deep in my suitcase for the journey to Arizona.
I got home in the middle of the night, but couldn't wait till morning to show my hand. I set the carton on the coffee table for my daughter to open. In the dark living room her face glowed, in the way of antique stories about children and treasure. With perfect delicacy she laid the shells out on the table, counting, sorting, designating scientific categories like yellow-striped pinky, Barnacle Bill's pocketbook . . . Yeek! She let loose a sudden yelp, dropped her booty, and ran to the far end of the room. The largest, knottiest whelk had begun to move around. First it extended one long red talon of a leg, tap-tap-tapping like a blind man's cane. Then came half a dozen more red legs, plus a pair of eyes on stalks, and a purple claw that snapped open and shut in a way that could not mean We Come in Friendship.
Who could blame this creature? It had fallen asleep to the sound of the Caribbean tide and awakened on a coffee table in Tucson, Arizona, where the nearest standing water source of any real account was the municipal sewage-treatment plant.
With red stiletto legs splayed in all directions, it lunged and jerked its huge shell this way and that, reminding me of the scene I make whenever I'm moved to rearrange the living-room sofa by myself. Then, while we watched in stunned reverence, the strange beast found its bearings and began to reveal a determined, crabby grace. It felt its way to the edge of the table and eased itself over, not falling bang to the floor but hanging suspended underneath within the long grasp of its ice-tong legs, lifting any two or three at a time while many others still held in place. In this remarkable fashion it scrambled around the underside of the table's rim, swift and sure and fearless like a rock climber's dream.
If you ask me, when something extraordinary shows up in your life in the middle of the night, you give it a name and make it the best home you can.
The business of naming involved a grasp of hermit-crab gender that was way out of our league. But our household had a deficit of males, so my daughter and I chose Buster, for balance. We gave him a terrarium with clean gravel and a small cactus plant dug out of the yard and a big cockleshell full of tap water. All this seemed to suit him fine. To my astonishment our local pet store carried a product called Vitaminized Hermit Crab Cakes. Tempting enough (till you read the ingredients) but we passed, since our household leans more toward the recycling ethic. We give him leftovers. Buster's rapture is the day I drag the unidentifiable things in cottage cheese containers out of the back of the fridge.
We've also learned to give him a continually changing assortment of seashells, which he tries on and casts off like Cinderella's stepsisters preening for the ball.