Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Book Review: The Lacuna

Oh boy, where to start? Reviewing a book by the likes of Barbara Kingsolver is daunting when I'm not, well, madly in love with the book. I want to be able to say, "I was mesmerized! I couldn't put it down!"

But I can't say that about The Lacuna. Let me say right off the bat that I suspect that it's largely my fault as a reader. I simply don't have the depth of intellect necessary for this book right now. I trust Kingsolver enough to know that she is a master storyteller; therefore, I am not connecting as a reader.

So, the story: Harrison Shepherd, known as Soli in the first tw0-thirds of the book, is a Mexican-American—or is he an American-Mexican?—who, as a teenager/young man, words for both Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo and for Leo Trotsky in Mexico. So we have three big issues in one sentence: identity, art, and politics. Toss in McCarthyism, agoraphobia, yellow journalism, truth vs. perception, homosexuality, and a writer's internal struggle. And, I must add, each of these issues is examined in depth, not just mentioned and left behind.

It's a hefty, thought-provoking, enlightening book, about as far from a quick beach read as you can get. The book is told almost entirely through Shepherd's journal entries, a format which takes some adjustment and a whole lot of concentration. The first two-thirds moved slowly for me, even painfully at times. You'd be best served to read this in large chunks of time, rather than in 15-minute snippets. The last third of the book, when Shepherd comes to America, moved faster and was, for me, more coherent. I really, really liked the second part of the book. In fact, I sort of wanted to go back and read the whole first two-thirds after finishing the book.

But I'm not going to, at least not anytime soon. I feel like reading some Danielle Steele now. (Kidding!) If you read the book—and I do recommend it, after all, it's Barbara Kingsolver, for Pete's sake—my advice is to set aside some good, solid reading time and pay attention.


Jeanne said...

I'll take your advice, but I have some doubts about this one. She can write some of the best novels, and some of the worst!

wisteria said...

You are always so candid in your reviews. I don't think you should be so hard on yourself. I know how that can be though when you are hoping for a great book and it disappoints you. I also love Kingsolver and will let you know my thoughts when and if I read this one. Now I'm not so sure.
I have you in my daily reader now, so I won't lose your blog. Happy Holidays....:)

Brook Stableford said...

Barbara Kingsolver is apparently speaking at a writers' conference Mexico in February. Does anyone know anything about it? Someone mentioned in a reading group that she is going to speak and lead workshops at a conference. Does anyone know anything about it? Thanks. I want to go!