After preparing a lengthy review of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna the other day, I hit the “save draft” button, walked away to make myself some dinner, and was going to come back to it so that I could finish my edits. When I returned to my post, lo and behold, damn WordPress ate my entire thing, except for the first sentence, despite having both the “auto save” feature AND my having clicked “safe draft.” I will admit, I was quite upset about this technological turn of events, but now that I have grieved for my lost post, I feel comfortable attempting to reconstruct the review, to the best of my ability.
I must also apologize for not having posted anything for a while on this blog. Now, this is not simply because I have started another blog that has been getting attention, Fat Girl No More. Rather, it actually took me about 2 weeks to read The Lacuna! Shocking, I know, for someone who usually polishes off 2 books per week and listens to a book a week in the car while commuting. Anywho, my review shall now commence!
I picked up Kingsolver’s The Lacuna about two weeks ago on the recommendation of a good friend who had just finished it. I had previously read two of Kingsolver’s other books, The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer, and enjoyed both immensely. I would even go so far as to say that The Poisonwood Bible is in my Top 10 Books of all time, that’s how good it was. Every book by Kingsolver is so meticulously written, and well-researched, that from the first moment, you are lost in the story, getting to know the characters and feeling like they are part of your own family.
The Lacuna tells the story of Harrison Shephard, the son of a Mexican mother and American father. We open the story as Shephard and mother are moving to Mexico after the demise of his parents’ marriage, and are immediately thrown into the travails that face them as the young protagonist watches his mother flit from man to man in her attempt to land her “big kahuna.” Shephard spends his time exploring their Mexican town, and writing of his experiences in his journal, which is how we, as readers, come to meet him (the book is told largely in journal format). As Shephard’s mother moves from man to man, Shephard eventually meets artist Frida Khalo in the market one day, helps her carry her purchases home, and ends up working for Khalo and striking up a lifelong friendship with her, and her husband, Diego Rivera. (Side note: as I have seen the film Frida numerous times, it was difficult for me not to picture Frida and Diego as Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina, the actors that portrayed them in the film. I do not think that this impacted my enjoyment of the book.) Shephard learns to cook, works as live-in help for Frida and Diego, and ultimately becomes the typist, and surrogate son, to Lev Trotsky, the famed Communist. Upon the brutal assassination of Trotsky in the late 1930’s, Frida Khalo worked her magic to get Shephard out of the country to safety, and thus, he returned to his native home, the United States.
Upon moving from Mexico to the U.S., Shephard discovers the fate of the father he had not seen in years, and takes up residence in Asheville, North Carolina, on the eve of World War II. After being found unfit for military service, Shephard does civilian duty as an art curator for the National Gallery, and ultimately begins his career as an author. After the conclusion of World War II, Shephard returns to his passion of writing, and successfully publishes two books, both adventure stories of explorers in Mexico. During this time, Shephard also chronicles in his journals the rise of the anti-communist movement in America, and McCarthy-ism, which ultimately turns on Shephard. So as not to spoil the book for anyone who intends to rush out and read it, I will stop my synopsis of the story here. However, I can assure you that the conclusion of the story is gripping and excellent and that you, dear reader, will not be disappointed.
One of the things that I love so much about Kingsolver’s writing is its lyrical nature. Although this book took me nearly 2 weeks to finish, I always felt that the pace of the book was well-maintained. More importantly, though, Kingsolver develops her characters so thoroughly, and tells her story in such a way, that you are entranced from the first sentence you read. I truly felt as I was reading this book that I was in Mexico, in the Khalo/Rivera household, experiencing the same world as Shephard. In my mind, when I feel like I have been transported into the book, that is the work of an excellent author. It also reminded me of why I enjoy Kingsolver’s writing so much – its just done so damn well! I’ve never been disappointed with a book of hers that I have read, and as an author, she tackles widely different subject matters with the utmost respect for her characters and the historical accuracy of the time.
As a result of all of this, I am now making it official…Barbara Kingsolver is my new BABS! And now, I will hunker down and await her next book with bated breath. Happy Reading!