Yo, FTC: I purchased this book. Sort of. Because I had Borders Bucks, and it didn’t cost me a dime. Thank god.
The Lacuna begins in Mexico in the 1920s. Harrison William Shepherd’s mother has left her American husband and returned to her native Mexico to live as the mistress of a wealthy man. Young Harrison is pretty much left to his own devices…he spends his days swimming, reading and learning how to cook. A few years later he is shipped off to his father, who in turn ships him off to a military academy, which he is subsequently kicked out of. Harrison returns to Mexico and ends up working as a cook for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. From there, he ends up as a typist in the household of Leon Trotsky.
After Trotsky’s assassination (it’s historical fact people, not a spoiler), Harrison winds up back in America, after which he goes on to a career as a successful novelist.
All of this is recreated for the reader from the diaries and correspondence of Harrison, compiled by his secretary. She interjects a few times with her own comments, although it’s not until the end that it all becomes clear as to why she is telling Harrison’s story.
Years ago I read The Poisonwood Bible, a book that I found to be long and torturous (I’ve blocked all other details from my mind). The Lacuna was my attempt to give Kingsolver a second chance. There will be no thirds.
Because the thing is, Harrison is flat. He’s unemotional. He may have good reason for his lack of emotions, but he makes a fairly boring protagonist. He seems to drift through life, letting things happen to him. And while the book has three historical characters (Trotsky, Kahlo and Rivera) that play key roles, I’m not sure that I was comfortable with their presence. Especially Trotsky’s. Sometimes real people in fiction books are okay, sometimes they’re not. This time….eh. I especially didn’t like the scene prior to Trotsky’s death, and Harrison’s reflections that he might have been able to stop the assassination.
After awhile I felt like there was no point to the story. And at 528 pages, that’s a lot of time spent wondering what the point iThen, the addition of the news articles about ½ way through just added more boringness. Somewhere around page 380 I saw the glimmer of a plot, but then it turned into the most predictable story line imaginable. J. Edgar Hoover, a famous author, communism, FBI witch hunts…tell me you don’t see the ending written in stone. Even the surprise twist at the end wasn’t a surprise twist…sorry, but you could see that coming a mile away, too. Spoilery rant follows in white type.
It’s right there in the title, for god’s sake! Lacunas (empty places, or gaps) are a recurring theme in the book…of course he swam into one and didn’t really drown like everyone thought he did. I’m not stupid…you didn’t need to explain it!
So anyways. Not impressed. Also, vaguely pissed that I stuck it out and read the whole thing. The Lacuna definitely marks the end of my relationship with Kingsolver.
I’ll close with this passage from the novel, which made me laugh, because, oh, the irony…
“She was curious about how a writer decides where to begin the story. You start with ‘In the beginning,’ I told her, but it should be as close to the end as possible. There’s the trick.
‘How can you know?’
‘You just decide. It could be right here. In the first light of dawn, the king in maroon robes and a golden breastplate stood atop his temple, glowering down at the chaos. He understood with dismay that his empire was collapsing. You have to get right into the action, readers are impatient. If you dilly-dally, they’ll go turn on the radio and listen to Duffy’s Tavern instead because it’s all wrapped up in an hour.’” (p. 404)