By Barbara Kingsolver
Completed June 6, 2010
In The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver assembles a moving story about a character who becomes a victim of his times. Harrison Shepherd could never find a place to call home. An American boy living in Mexico, Harrison survived through his ability to cook good Mexican food and gift for writing. His youth was spent among Communists – namely Mexican painters Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo, and displaced Russian revolutionary Lev Trotsky. While politically ambiguous, Harrison was loyal to his employers – typing letters, mixing plaster and cooking dinners. After Trotsky’s murder, Harrison felt alienated by the country he called home and decided to head north to the country of his birth.
Unfortunately, Harrison’s time in the United States was equally disillusioning. Embracing the wartime hopefulness of Americans, he began a successful career as a novelist writing about ancient Mexico. Harrison had a few years of peace and happiness, until the U.S. government began investigating citizens for communist loyalty. Harrison’s time in Mexico made him an easy target, and he fell victim to McCarthyism – alienated once again from a country he tried to turn into home.
Lucky for Harrison, he had a loyal and intuitive stenographer, Violet Brown, who helped him navigate these murky waters. She typed his letters, fed his creative soul and counseled him on how to deal with the claims of anti-Americanism. She saw grace and talent in her employer, and Violet did everything she could to protect him (mostly from himself).
The Lacuna has troubling similarities to modern America. Kingsolver exposes the injustices and paranoia that can grip a nation. Her book could serve as a warning to people about what happens when fear overrules reason: Innocent people are tossed aside, personal justice is stepped on, and people become suspicious of their neighbors, co-workers and friends. For a person like Harrison Shepherd, it becomes a hole that one cannot emerge from.
Told with beautiful language and witty dialogue, The Lacuna is Kingsolver at her finest. This book is highly recommended to readers of “serious” fiction – who enjoy stories full of symbolism, foreshadowing and politcal thought.