Writer and critic Ursula LeGuin has identified relatives, relatedness, and relationships as three major themes in the fiction of Barbara Kingsolver. These motifs are certainly predominant in her latest work, Pigs in Heaven. The two lead characters here were first introduced in Kingsolver's The Bean Trees.
Taylor Greer and her adopted daughter Turtle are on vacation at the Hoover Dam when the six year old sees a man fall into a spillway. After the fellow is rescued, the media picks up story. Annawake Fourkiller, an Indian activist lawyer, watches them on Oprah Winfrey's TV show. She goes on the warpath when she hears that Taylor didn't get permission from the Cherokee Nation to adopt Turtle. The two meet in Tucson to discuss the welfare of the child. Shortly afterwards Taylor and Turtle flee for parts unknown.
Meanwhile, Taylor's 61-year-old mother Alice leaves her TV-watching husband who has become totally noncommunicative. She links up with Taylor and Turtle in Las Vegas and gives them the money they need to continue on the road. Then Alice decides to pay a visit to her Cherokee cousin Sugar who lives in Heaven, Oklahoma. Maybe she can help her iron things out.
This spirited followup to The Bean Trees continues Barbara Kingsolver's fascination with Native American spirituality. Here the Cherokee tribal values of tradition, ritual, and mutuality are contrasted with "the looking out for number one" value system of the rest of society. Kingsolver makes Taylor into an immensely appealing mother who will do anything to keep Turtle with her. When she finally agrees to visit Heaven, Oklahoma, to see what the Cherokee Nation has to say about her custody case, there are several surprises in store for her.
Pigs in Heaven is a rich, robust novel about relatives, relatedness, and relationships. It celebrates the spiritual benefits of belonging to a tribe of people who know more than your name.