Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book Review - The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

(illustrated with artwork from Etsy)
 Have you ever heard of the word lacuna before?  It has various meanings.  For example, early in the story, the cook tells Harrison to stay away from rocks on the far side of the cove.  “Leondro says the tides are complicated and the rocks on that side are dangerous, to stay over here in the shallow reef.  He wasn’t pleased to hear about the cave.  He already knew about it, it is called something already, la lacuna.  Not a cave exactly but an opening like a mouth that swallows things.”   Later in the story, we are told that lacuna is a missing piece, “the hole in a story.” The plot thickens with just one word.

I was told Kingsolver's writing style (in this book at least) is called Post Modernism.  What?  I’ve never heard of this before.   Post Modernism relies heavily on "fragmentation."  You can't mistake it; the story is full of many styles of writing - narration, diary entries, author notations, published articles.  Don't miss A Note on Historical References at the beginning of the book, which separates some of the fact from fiction.

I have to admit, the story wore me out.  It is full of Russian, Mexican and American politics, 20th century art, and Mexican culture. Too many themes for one book?  I kept asking myself that as I plowed through the 500+ pages of small type. 

I enjoyed the author’s character development the best; Harrison living with his mother in Mexico, his friendships with Frida Kahla and Violet Brown (factual and fiction.)  When Harrison returns to the U.S., he  settles down in Asheville.  After his writing career takes off, tensions start to grow in America.  The beginning of McCarthyism.  “Lacking the unifying slogan (“Win The War“), our opposing parties sling absurd pronouncements back and forth, which everyone pretends carry real weight.” Analogous to the United States now!

Are you an aspiring writer?  Then Harrison's explanation to Violet about writing might strike you as it did me.  "You start 'In the beginning' I told her, but it should be as close to the end as possible.  There's the trick."  Does Barbara Kingsolver use this technique herself?  I think so!  In the postscript of my paperback edition, Barbara is asked why she included certain characters in her novel.  She replied, "When I construct a novel, I back up from 'effect' to 'cause.'  I wanted to examine the American political psyche using artists as a vehicle.  My protagonist would be singled out because of his suspect past, so I had to give him a past.  It made sense for many reasons to start with the Mexican revolutionary muralists of the 1930s and end with the anti-communist censorship of the 1950s." 


Frantzie Couch said...

Thanks for your enlightening review of The Lacuna. Love the illustrations. The artwork gives the flavor of Mexico and of Frida and Diego's art, and the Joe McCarthy button is right on! And your insights into the story and the author's intent were helpful.

B.E.Deuel said...

I so enjoy your reviews. I think you are very much in touch with what appeals to an audience. Thank you for sharing, as always!


cath c said...

lovely art and thanks for the review. this book is floating around my book 'guild' more of a loosely based group of friends who read and pass books around.

Splendid Little Stars said...

interesting review, especially coupled with the artwork. I love Barbara Kingsolver, but have not yet read this book. She writes in a variety of styles, so her books are not all the same. She is a biologist who is musical and is a fan of history. You must listen to her read one of her works. Her voice is wonderful!

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