Book 397: The Beans of Egypt, Maine – Carolyn Chute

Chute, Carolyn - The Beans of Egypt, MaineMy friend Carlie (Hi Carlie!), recommended this book way back when I started this blog not long after she recommended The Hunger Games and I picked up a copy back in December 2012. I don’t know why it took so long for me to get around to it, but it did. I should’ve known better based on how much I enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, another of her discoveries.

This book really should be mentioned in the same breath of books like The Color Purple and Bastard Out of Carolina. Maybe it is and I’m not aware of it, but if it isn’t I’m not sure why. It was published in 1985 right in between the Color and Carolina and it’s just as harrowing, real and disturbing as either of those. (It’s also compared to Faulkner, but I can’t speak to that as I’ve never read him.)

On the back cover there’s a quote by Chute which sums up how she came to write the book: “This book was involuntarily researched. I have lived in poverty. I didn’t CHOOSE it. No one would chose humiliation, pain, and rage.”

Whereas other books I’ve read about poverty are more often a rise from poverty, this was definitely about a descent into poverty. I could definitely see it coming, but it was still jarring how and when it happened. The abruptness of it and the cutting of all ties seemed pretty standard and what Chute excelled at was not shying away from the harsh realities of poverty. She wrote about incest, birth and illness because of its prevalence, she didn’t mask them. The slow dawning knowledge of the incest on the main character was difficult to watch because of it’s affects on her and what she knew it meant for her. The only thing she could’ve included more of was death. I feel like there was probably more infancy death than she wrote about, but I guess that was more “hush-hush” than any of the other stuff.

The most poignant parts of the novel where when the characters in poverty described their neighbors coming in with their fancy cars and new houses. The details focused on are those you would focus on when you were in that situation such as the color and size of the mailbox and the toys the children play with. It was very different from the beginning of the book where the “better off” characters describe the “worse off.”

The only complaint I have is about the flow of the novel. There seemed to be a few points where it skipped a few years and it took me a few paragraphs to figure that out. It wasn’t a bad thing, it just wasn’t as smoothly done as I would prefer, but other than that it was a great read.

Recommendation: READ IT. It raised a lot of questions about nature versus nurture and environmental factors. I mean if you grow up surrounded by poverty aren’t your chances of descending into it higher? Or does it make you work harder to get out of it?

I’m starting to think Carlie needs to start her own book blog with these recommendations. She’s pretty much three-for-three (I didn’t enjoy the end of Mockingjay, but the rest was good).

Opening Line: “We’ve got a ranch house.”

Closing Line: “In a fadin’ whisper, I say, ‘REUBEN, YOU ARE GOIN’ TA BURN IN HELL.'” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)


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