The Lacuna: A Novel (P.S.)

Image of The Lacuna: A Novel (P.S.)
Release Date: 
July 19, 2010
Harper Perennial
Reviewed by: 

 She did it!  She really did it!  Ms. Kingsolver has woven fiction and nonfiction together with an invisible bond that is so strong and seamless, you cannot tell which is which.  This is historical fiction at its best.  Lev Trotsky, one of the primary characters in the book and the actual co-founder of socialist communism (with Lenin) in Russia, sums up this sentiment when he tells the book’s featured actor (Harrison Shepherd) that more can be learned from the novel Harrison is writing than from all the tracts, papers, essays, and letters he (Trotsky) has ever written.  In The Lacuna, we eventually get into the hearts and heads of Harrison and those that come into and out of his life.  His closest friends and confidents include Leandro (the house cook of his mother’s second husband), Frida Kahlo (the painter), Diego Rivera (the muralist and Frida’s husband), Lev Davidovich Trotsky (the exiled and hunted Russian leader), Tom Cuddy (Civil Service colleague), Violet Brown (Harrison’s stenographer), and Artie Gold (Harrison’s lawyer). Here is a brief excerpt of a conversation between Harrison and Frida. Frida: “What do you know about love?” Harrison: “Nothing apparently. That it winks on and off like an electric bulb. Who doesn’t want life?” Frida: “They [Diego and Lev] want it so badly they shake the world until its teeth fall out.  It's why they’re the men they are.” Harrison: “And Frida can help them to be alive.  When she feels like it.”    Readers are not only entertained by the prose, storyline, and dialogue in The Lacuna, but are also taken back into the times of ancient and post revolutionary Mexico, World War II, and McCarthyism.  One of the highlights of this work is the way Ms. Kingsolver provides North American audiences with a seemingly intimate understanding of Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, the beginning ideals of communism, and the conflicts that arose between these men and in their private lives. Fictionalized stories, which skillfully intertwine history into the mix, are often easier to digest and understand than rote facts, figures, and biographies, which tend to distance and separate their subjects and issues from our present day lives. In this book, the author includes actual press releases—which now sound so absurd that they seem like fairytales—and fictionalized clippings and book reviews that ring true. Similar to her storytelling in The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver takes her time to get the reader acquainted with a familial relationship in another country (Mexico) and a child’s growing awareness of his surroundings, his mother’s idiosyncrasies, and the inequalities that exist within the society in which he lives.  About halfway through the book, it becomes apparent who is speaking and from which viewpoint they are addressing the reader.  A “lacuna” (an empty space or missing part) begins and ends this story, but you must read the book to discover what that is and in what capacity it takes place.  Even if you get an inkling of what the upcoming chapters might pertain, it is the telling of the tale—with such clarity, insight, literary structure, and realistic dialogue—that will keep you reading.  You’ll feel like you are a fly on the wall of Harrison’s life and times and not a reader using a magnifying glass to understand the past. 

Gabriel Constans’ latest novel is Buddha’s Wife. His collection of short stories, Saint Catherine’s Baby, was just released.