Thursday, January 21, 2010

book review: the lacuna

Unlike her other books, which instantly engulfed me, this left me largely disappointed and unaffected until the end. It's mainly told through journal entries, with a great many letters and news articles (some real, some created) dispersed throughout. The protagonist Harrison Shepherd is not very identifiable for some reason--and I wonder if Kingsolver meant it to be that way. He is a cipher, and as his stenographer/archivist says, he seems almost a shadow in his own story, that "he wrote as if he'd been the one to carry the camera to each and every one of his life's events, and thus was unseen in all the pictures." Intended or not, I was unable to become familiar enough with his character to invest in it, and I found myself very bored by the the newspaper articles, as well as his correspondence with Frida Kahlo.

The first section of the book is engaging, and the end picks up steam because of its all-too-recognizable similarity to the current state of the world. I share the feeling of seeing a grim fate hurtling toward me without the power to deflect it. Late in the book Shepherd is decried as one of the most dangerous people in America, because of his associations with Communists--as in, people who believe that workers should own their means of production--and I assume that Kingsolver was drawing upon her experience of being similarly denounced. The issues the book raises about distortionist media, xenophobia, abuse of power, infringement on civil liberties, manipulation of an apathetic public, and the human penchant for cruelty and self-absolvance are of course weighty, and for that reason I'm glad I slogged through the tedious parts. I find myself too often, as the quote goes, "involved in the thick of thin things," and it's good to be forced to consider life outside the narrow scope of my own experience, and to be presented with the sins and errors of my own people.

So, I'm glad I read it, but it's not going to replace The Poisonwood Bible or Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in my affections.


tipsybaker said...

i own this book but have not read it, and your review has convinced me to move it to the bottom of the stack.
I've never heard that quote about "the thick of thin things" but I really like it.