I wouldn’t normally comment on a book before it’s finished, but since this one has already taken up a fair chunk of my life (and crossed several countries with me!) I think an interim report might be allowed.
The Lacuna is the life-story (we start at the age of thirteen and I assume we are going to the very end) of Harrison Shepherd, who as a boy is naturally retiring and likes to observe and record life from the sidelines. But as things fall out, brought by his flighty mother from the U.S. to Mexico and sent back again for a dismal year of schooling, he is witness to great chunks of social and political history – from the Bonus Marches of 1932 to the death of Trotsky in Mexico and the McCarthy era . In all of this the ‘hero’ remains an acute observer but also an outsider – a gringo in Mexico and a foreigner when in the U.S. His passion to write makes him an avid recorder of what he sees, and despite himself, of what he feels. His relationships with his friends and employers (who include Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo as well as Trotsky himself) are subtly drawn, as is his attachment to his amanuensis, the quaintly spoken and highly principled Violet Brown. The theme of lacunae refers to the parts of his life for which he has kept no records or had them destroyed, but is echoed elsewhere, as in Kahlo’s observation that it’s the things we don’t know about people that are always the most important.
In all of this the writing is as brilliant as ever and the variety of settings (including chunks of Mayan and Aztec history) evoked in ways that show the true Kingsolver touch. The main character, revelaled in oblique and subtle ways, is both complex and sympathetic. Right now I am happy to step along in his shoes, observing American life from his unique perspective. Despite this I’d also have to say that as a novel it’s less compelling than either Poisonwood Bible or Prodigal Summer, possibly because of the sweep of geography and history it encompasses.
Of course I’m still not at the end, and I’m intrigued as to which lacunae will be filled in by then, and how important they will turn out to be.