Reading an interview on Carolyn Chute, the author of "The Beans of Egypt, Maine", sent me in search of her novel. I was sure I owned the book but after weeding through my extensive library I realized that I did not own the book and borrowed it from my local library.
It took me awhile to get through the book. But it didn't take long before I knew that not only did I not like the book but I also did not like the characters, I didn't want to know anything about them or to read about their lives. The level of ignorance and squalor as described by Ms Chute, I have no doubt, was based at least partly on factual information as witnessed by Ms. Chute. We writers do, after all, write mostly what we know.
Incest and over-population running rampant throughout the pages did not interest me in the least. But just a couple of days before the book was due back at the library, I plowed through to the end. And by the book's end, I pretty much felt the same way that I did at the beginning. I was glad it was over. Typically it would have been one of those books that I would have put aside and not gone back to, but it was a quick read so I decided to add it to my 2016 book list.
It was a perfect example of the kind of life that is available to you without an education. Many of the characters, Earlene in particular, suffer hunger, want, and abuse in several forms. We follow Earlene from childhood into adulthood. As a child, Earlene seemed independent and confident. As an adult she was in far less control of her life, even confining herself to bed for a time, unable to function. She accepted the Bean's way of life as her own. And you see her children following in her footsteps as well.
What a snob, is probably what you are thinking as you read this review. Coming from a blue collar background myself, I know poverty on a certain level. I think the difference is rural poverty from city poverty. We lived in apartments in triple-deckers surrounded by a variety of ethnic families, living similar lives. But when you live rural, I think you have far less exposure to a different way of life and that when you are surrounded by a particular way of life, that is what you unquestioningly follow. Because in your world, there is no other way of life.
Although I didn't care for the read I do believe Ms Chute portrayed exactly the kind of life that many of us more fortunate will never be exposed to in our lives. For that reason, books such as these are necessary and should be read, if only to understand the plight of the have-nots.
I rate "The Beans of Egypt, Maine" 4 out of 5 stars.
Buy "Big Brown Cow Eyes" by DJ Geribo