Barbara Kingsolver is a phenomenal writer. While some readers love her plots and others criticize, my favorite thing about her works is her incredible use of imagery. Often when I write I struggle with avoiding describing things in the same old cliché way. Not Barbara. She can put something in your mind’s eye in a fresh way.
The Lacuna is a piece of historical fiction that chronicles the life of Harrison Shepherd. You meet Shepherd as a boy, who has an American father and Mexican mother. Shepherd is a writer. He journals religiously, recording the events of his life — the meaningful, the mundane. While reading Shepherd’s journal entries, the reader discovers learns of his formative years in Mexico, working as a cook for artists Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo and typist for Lev Trotsky (leader of the Bolshevik Revolution). Years pass, tragedy strikes, along with WWII. For his safety, Shepherd settles in Asheville, North Carolina where he pens his first novel and forges a friendship with Miss Violet Brown, his secretary. Years pass, more novels and then, the Red Scare. Shepherd is targeted relentlessly, leading to a fabulous twist in this tale.
I think Kingsolver worked about eight years on this novel. Her sheer research is incredible. It’s a long one – 507 pages.
“[The Lacuna] raises questions I’ve wondered about for nearly as long as I’ve been a writer,” Kingsolver said. “Starting with this one: Why is the relationship between art and politics such an uneasy one in the U.S.? Most people in other places tend to view these as inseparable…We began as a nation of rabble-rousers, bent on change. But now, patriotism is often severely defined as accepting our country to be a perfect finished product. I suspected that if I went sleuthing through history, I might find the framework of that turning point. And that it would turn out to be an important story.”
Here are a few of my favorite excerpts…
The Queen (Frida) stood staring with such a fierce frown, her dark eyebrows joined in a handshake over the bridge of her nose. (79)
The bones of the ancient city radiated heat , but the little river ran a cool thread through its belly. A lizard moved in the grass of the bank, running into the shade of a ledge, coming to rest near a stone that seemed rounded and glossy, even in shadow. That stone was smooth to the touch, and when turned over, revealed itself not as an ordinary pebble but a small, carved figurine…Every detail of the little figure was perfect: his rounded belly with indented naval, his short legs and fierce face. A headdress that resembled a neat pile of biscuits. Eyes deeply indented under arched brows. And inside his rounded lips, a hole for a mouth, like a tunnel from another time speaking. I am looking for the door to another world. I’ve waited thousands of years. Take me. (202)
Going mad inside a house. The wisteria vines have blocked up the windows. No matter where I try to look out, it’s those palmate leaves, green hands shoved against my eyes. The neighbor used to bring over his pruners and do the job as a favor, but Myers likely advised him against pruning Communist vines. He hasn’t done his own either, I notice. The house looks like it’s cowering behind its own shrubbery. Every bungalow on the block is the same, curtained, folded shut. Quarantine. The siege of Berlin ended May 12, the barricades finally came down. But here they seem high as ever. (464)
Another one of my favorites is The Poisonwood Bible.