Carolyn Chute

"The Beans of Egypt, Maine"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark APR 14, 1999)

The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute

Ever drive by those isolated mobile homes strung with Christmas lights, dozens of junk cars, and maybe even a trailerable home and wondered who lives there? Sometimes there's a plywood extension to the mobile home or a shack nearby. Usually there are piles of wood, maybe a sign that says "Hay for Sale," but you don't see any hay anywhere.  A few mangy dogs might be barking, a cat with its kittens, a pregnant girl is hanging out the wash, and a yard full of toys, means there's more kids somewhere. Well, meet the Beans of Egypt, Maine. There's Cousin Rubie, a boozer and a brawler, tall Aunt Roberta, the earth mother surrounded by countless clinging babies and Beal, sensitive, often gentle, but doomed by the violence within him. Earline is God-fearing and obsessed with the whole swarming tribe of Beans until she's smack in the middle of the clan herself.

The best part about having read this book, is that I can never drive by one of these places again and not recognize it as a real home with loving people.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 17 reviews

"Letourneau's Used Auto Parts"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark APR 14, 1999)

Letourneau's Used Auto Parts by Carolyn Chute

I can't imagine anyone who won't want to read more about Egypt, Maine!  In this second book, Big Lucien, head of the Letourneau clan, owns the only profitable business in town. Actually he owns everything else too, at least all the shacks and trailer homes in Miracle City.  He has about 5 ex-wives, eight kids and a home full of old and young woman.  The book isn't about him, but revolves around him.

This novel gives an even better picture of poverty in western Maine than the first book.  I think the fact that she draws a correlation between western Massachusetts and this part of Maine is interesting.  My father is from the Berkshires and I have always been fascinated that the very poor can live so close to the very rich (and not even be seen). The same can be said for western Maine now that Sunday River has become such a successful ski resort. 

For a few winters some friends and I rented a house in a poorer town about twenty miles from the ski slope. People from the town would come to visit or we'd meet them at the local bar, so we got to know the locals fairly well. It was a big change for us compared to our yuppy day-to-day life. This really happened: a woman told my friend Reid that she knew he was from out of town because he had all his teeth. Then there was the local guy up the road who showed us a handy trick when we ran out of fuel in the oil tank - just dump in some diesel for the nearby gas station - no need to call the oil company in off hours! Anyway, he started to leave, but we insisted he stay until he finished the beer he was drinking. Which he did. Then, he proceeded to pull out yet another beer from his overalls. I think he had the equivalent of a six pack stored on him and unfortunately he took us literally and stayed until all of it was gone. Boy, were we tired on the slopes the next day!

Sorry, got a little off the track.  I highly recommend both of these books.  Not only does it make the working poor a little more visible, but they are literary gems, worth a few re-reads.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews


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  • Forbidden Choices (based on The Beans of Egypt, Maine)

 

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About the Author:

Carolyn ChuteCarolyn Chute was born in 1947, in Portland, Maine. She dropped out of high school and married at 16 and was a grandmother at 37, when she first published The Beans of Egypt, Maine.  She herself had been very poor for many years. Caroyln, however, only had the one child and used writing as her creative outlet instead. When asked how came to write The Beans of Egypt, Maine, she responded: "This book was involuntarily researched. I have lived poverty. I didn't CHOOSE it. Now one wouls choose humilation, pain, and rage."

Her jobs have included working on a potato farm, working for the Holoy Innocents Homemaker Service, being Gorham correspondent for the Portland Evening Express, and writing a column for the Courier Free Press. Her short stories have been published in Shenandoah, Ploughshares, the Agni Review, Grand Street and the Ohio Review.

Carolyn Chute lives in North Parsonfield, Maine with her husband Michael.

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