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Review: The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna is an extremely difficult novel to explain. It covers a lot of territory, and a lot of topics. It’s difficult to know where to start. It’s a novel about a young man named Harrison Shepherd, a Mexican-American who grows up in Mexico and later lives in North Carolina. From the age of thirteen, when Harrison finds himself mixing plaster and cooking food for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, up through his thirties, when he is a famous author and suspected Communist, this novel is, as the back of the book states, a coming of age story. But it’s much more than that as well.

As I’ve said, this is a tough novel to describe. In high school (about 10 years ago), I read everything Kingsolver had written up to that point, and I can say that this book is very much unlike any of her other novels, both in subject matter and style. But just the same, I loved this novel. Lacunae are voids, pieces that are missing; and it’s hard for me to grasp exactly what this means. It’s because of this that The Lacuna is a thought-provoking novel, one that had me thinking about it and its characters long after I’d put it down. It’s definitely bleak in parts, but Kingsolver’s writing is magical, contrasting the warmth of the Mexican climate with the coldness of the United States during the 1950s. There’s also, sort of, an anti-American bias in this book; the United States certainly doesn’t come across very well.

The characters are also amazing and well-drawn, though Shepherd seems to be more of an observer in this novel as opposed to an active participant (much, as he says early on, like viewing the world through a camera lens). But there are other, interesting characters in this book, including the prickly Frida Kahlo, with her morbid sense of humor; and Violet Brown, Shepherd’s middle-aged stenographer, with her archaic grammar. I though the newspaper clippings and reviews to be a little bit too much, but I really, really loved the rest of this novel.


Kathleen said…
Based on your review I look forward to reading The Lacuna soon. I thoroughly enjoyed The Poisonwood Bible though I have found that many in the book blogging world are not nearly as enthusiastic about it as I was.
Teddy Rose said…
Boy, I must have been asleep at the computer when this book was announced! I love Kingsolver.

I just added it to my TBR. Thanks for the review.
S. Krishna said…
I'm not sure I want to read this one, but your review has made me move in the "to read" direction. Thanks!
Thanks for posting this. I looked at The Lacuna at the bookstore and wasn't overly excited by it in spite of being a huge Kingsolver fan (and I agree with your assessment of The Poisonwood Bible). Your review has piqued my interest.

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