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The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

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Published by Paul Schlieben
Book review by Paul Schlieben. synaptia.blogspot.com
Book review by Paul Schlieben. synaptia.blogspot.com

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Published by: Paul Schlieben on Oct 01, 2010
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07/09/2014

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‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver 
hen an author’s name is the prominentfeature of a book’s jacket, there is oneobvious conclusion you can draw. The author is a brand – all that’s needed to guarantee brisk sales. Another less obvious conclusion is that, being successful; the author gets to pick thetitle. The publisher may suggest a title, butwhat’s going to sell is the author’s brand, so a publisher is unlikely to press hard. So what?There’s a world of difference between a title picked by an author and one picked by amarketing department. When an author picks atitle, it is likely to contain a significant clue tounderstanding the book. And, for an author of Barbara Kingsolver’s caliber, it is unlikely that she would be satisfied with a title thatexpressed just one idea or feature of her book. She would select a title that wasmultidimensional, reflecting the complexity and richness of her story.
W
In the case of ‘The Lacuna,’ I wondered if the title preceded the writing of the book or even whether the word “lacuna” itself might have in some way been the spark ignitingthe idea for the book. Whatever its genesis, ‘The Lacuna’ is a great title that represents perfectly the many dimensions of this wonderful book.
[Before I go any further, here’s a definition. According to Dictionary.com, “lacuna” is “agap or missing part, as in a manuscript, series, or logical argument; hiatus.” It can alsorefer to “one of the numerous minute cavities in the substance of a bone…”The only usage of the word I could find was in Condi Rice’s 2007 congressionaltestimony.
"In response to charges that private security firms were not held accountable for their aggressive behavior, Rice dodged responsibility by repeatedly referring to a “lacuna” or a gap in the law that prevented the contractors from being prosecuted.” 
Icouldn’t resist including a poem by Madeleine Kane inspired by this testimony.Pondering Condi
Reviewed by Paul Schlieben- 1 -synaptia.blogspot.com
 
‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver 
By Madeleine Begun KaneRice shrugs off blameFor wartime’s toll.Poor oversight?Rice claims a hole—A legal “lacuna”Impedes controlOf contractor actionsOn Iraq patrol.Must fill that lacuna—She touts that goal.But who will fillThe lacuna in her soul?For more, visit madcane.com. OK, now back the to reviewing the book.]
‘The Lacuna’ is a wonderfully imaginative historical novel that threads the fictional lifeof its protagonist, Harrison William Shepherd, into the tumultuous lives of the celebrated20
th
century Mexican artists, Diego Rivera and Freda Kaylo, and also the Russianrevolution leader, Leon Trotsky, who, for a time in the late 1930s lived in exile at Freda’svilla in Mexico. Trotsky was assassinated there by one of Stalin’s assassins in 1940.Kingsolver also manages to weave into her story Douglas Macarthur’s rout of the WW I“Bonus Army” in 1932, as well as J. Edgar Hoover and the House Sub-Committee onUn-American Activities’ post-war pursuit of communists in the late 1940s and early1950s. Amazingly, it all works. Notable among Kingsolver’s fictional characters is Shepherd’s Mexican mother, acomically irresponsible, restless 1920s flapper who frantically attaches herself to one manafter another, as if jumping from one lily pad and then another, as the previous one sinksunder the weight of her expectations. A fatally attractive flapper, she thoroughlyabsorbed the slang of that era, spouting words like “fillies” “pips” “sweet patooties andno-o-o dotie brodies” and “I’m just razzing you” and “wad of tin” … and on and on. The best example is a brilliantly comical conversation between mother and son on pages 136-39 [Shepherd’s May 4
th
journal entry]. If you read nothing else, read this. It’s some of the best dialogue in the book.Another prominent character to emerge later in the story is Violet Brown, of the
“peculiar antique grammar,”
to whom Shepherd, inviting her to become his secretary,
Reviewed by Paul Schlieben- 2 -synaptia.blogspot.com
 
‘The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver 
writes,
“… your discretion is prodigious. You resisted the siren song of tattle. The seamsof your character must be sewn with steel thread.”
Violet emerges as a character worthyof a book of her own. Strong-willed, independent-minded, seventeen years Shepherd’ssenior, she becomes his private secretary in Ashville, North Carolina in the 1940’s, andeventual his archivist after his presumptive death. She has broken away from anuncomprehending Carolina hill family to pursue a dream of independence and travel.Harrison William Shepherd was born in 1916 just outside of Washington, D.C. inVirginia of a Mexican mother, Solomé, and an American father – 
“a claims accountant in her father’s firm who was helpless before her charms.”
She was under age, but asShepherd himself writes,
“She solved the mathematical problem of age sixteen by saying  she was twenty. At twenty-four she said the same thing again, balancing the equation.She became Sally, confirmed in the church of expediency.”
 From the very beginning, Shepherd was caught between two cultures. Subject to achaotic existence, he was tethered to a woman whose restless devotion to motherhoodwas tenuous – at times deniable, if judged an impediment to attracting a man. Blessedwith a keen intelligence and natural gifts of a writer, Shepherd is destined to make senseof it all by writing journals throughout his early years.When Shepherd was ten years old or so, his mother ran off with him to Mexico to livewith Enrique, a wealthy Mexican landowner of several oil rich properties. Enrique planted her and her son in an isolated hacienda on a plantation island called Isla Pixol, far from the exciting urban life she had imagined. It is on Isla Pixol that Shepherd’s story begins.Solomé is enamored of the post-World War I flapper craze. Life on Isla Pixol is a greatdisappointment to a woman whose blood has been heated to boiling by the “RoaringTwenties.” At one point, as Enrique is entertaining American oilmen with whom he iseager to make a deal,
“Solomé tries to get them all to cut a rug. She cranked up theVictrola and waved the mezcal bottle at the men, but they went to bed, leaving her  fluttering around the parlor like a balloon of air, let go.”
That pretty well describes her life on Isla Pixol. She is disdainful of the local natives and eager to make her escape. As
Reviewed by Paul Schlieben- 3 -synaptia.blogspot.com

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