The Bean Trees last week. Though I'm only halfway through the book, I am already struck by its literary kinship to Flannery O'Connor. To cite but one example, the opening of Kingsolver's novel - one of the most memorable in modern fiction - could have easily been written by O'Connor. Since I would be doing the author a disservice to paraphrase, I shall quote it in its entirety:
I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbine's father over the top of the Standard Oil sign. I'm not lying. He got stuck up there. About nineteen people congregated during the time it took for Norman Strick to walk up to the Courthouse and blow the whistle for the volunteer fire department. They eventually did come with the ladder and haul him down, and he wasn't dead but lost his hearing and in many other ways was never the same afterward. They said he overfilled the tire.
As you can tell from these few lines, Kingsolver shares O'Connor's sense of the grotesque salted with dry humor. There are other O'Connor touches I've picked up - character names (e.g. Turtle), place names (e.g. "Jesus is Lord Used Tires"), and even elements of violence. While I don't know how much of an influence Flannery had on Kingsolver (heck, I don't even know if she's read her - though I suspect she has - or even likes her), there are some striking similarities between the two authors. And yet Barbara Kingsolver is just as fresh and original in her time as Flannery was in hers. What's more...she is a joy to read.