Kingsolver, B. (2009). The lacuna: A novel. New York: Harper. 9780060852573
Back in high school, I picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees for an English class assignment. Even though one of my guy friends berated the book and me, I enjoyed reading The Bean Trees. Then, I read The Poisonwood Bible for one of courses in college. While this book wasn’t so funny, I was enthralled by Kingsolver’s skill at presenting the same story from multiple perspectives. In fact, I consider The Poisonwood Bible one of my favorites. When Kingsolver’s The Lacuna came out in 2009, I placed a request on her latest book. After checking out the book five times, I managed to finish The Lacuna.
Harrison William Shepherd is the son of an American father and a Mexican father. His parents have split and Harrison spends his formative years bouncing between Dad and Mom, United States and Mexico. The book starts in 1929, when his mom, Salome, has dragged her passive son with her to the remote Isla Pixol, Mexico. They live her rich boyfriend and Harrison nothing but time on his hands. He discovers pastry-making with the household cook, Leandro, and a lacuna in the sea. Also, Salome presses upon him the need to write, to record his passage through life. After an unsuccessful stint in a U.S. military academy, the young man finds himself keeping a journal as a domestic employee of Diego Rivera. Here, he rubs elbows with Rivera, Kahlo, and an exiled Trotsky.
When circumstances bring Shepherd back to the United States, he publishes novels about the Azteca. The Lacuna itself contains many of Shepherd’s journals, letters, articles, and when needed, explanation from his right hand and future archivist, Violet Brown.
Kingsolver deals in many themes here – culture clash/shock, fear, prejudice, and alienation. While I found Shepherd compelling and I cared enough about him that I wanted to know what happened to the guy, I felt that I was kept at arm’s length. I couldn’t really know this man. As Violet Brown described him, he was a watcher rather than an actor. His words are beautiful but Shepherd is so remote.
I’m divided about the real people of the book. When I did a project about Rivera in high school, I had much the same sense of the muralist as portrayed in the book. Frida Kahlo as a fierce Aztec queen is right on the money. Yet, the amateur historian (okay, I minored in History) within me doesn’t find this kosher.
I think The Poisonwood Bible is a far better work. The Price women were just that – women. In that book, only the females talked to the reader. In The Lacuna, Shepherd, a man, feels cold even when my brain says that’s he’s not. I craved the words of Violet so much more simply because she was a woman and Kingsolver knows women. Whether or not Shepherd was gay doesn’t make a difference when it comes to writing a man in first person.
Beautiful prose but not completely natural. . .
Two out of Five Pearls
Word Bank: lacuna, Aztec, jingoist, Communism, McCarthyism
Places: Mexico, USA
For more on Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna and related topics, please check out the following sites:
- ‘The Lacuna,’ Barbara Kingsolver’s Disappointing Return | NPR
- Book World: Ron Charles reviews ‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver
- Book Review: The Lacuna By Barbara Kingsolver – Blogcritics Books
- Barbara Kingsolver – The Lacuna << Fyrefly’s Book Blog
- The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver « Leeswammes’s Blog
- Frida’s Red Hot Lover << Lisa’s History Room