A “lacuna” is a hole, an empty place in a stone or bone — and a metaphor for The Lacuna‘s central character. Harrison Shepherd moves through Mexico and America in the first half of the 20th century, aching to be a part of a family, and a nation, but never quite fitting in.He’s too bookish for his flighty, flappery Mexican mother, who “depends on the kindnesses of strangers,” resulting in a predictable downward spiral into genteel poverty. He’s too exotic for his American father, and definitely not the right guy for his Washington, D.C. military boarding school. His safest haven, for a time, is in the tumultuous, fragile Mexico City home of artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, along with their guests, the fugitive Soviet Lev Trotsky and his wife. Shepherd’s connection with Communism haunts him when, as a successful but reclusive author, he fetches up in Asheville, North Carolina and runs afoul of the House Unamerican Acttvities Committee.
Told through his own chronological journals and the musings of his gal Friday, Mrs. Violet Brown, The Lacuna tells Shepherd’s story in convincing, vivid pieces that have holes (get it?) here and there. Though he’s old-fashionedly opaque about his personal life, Shepherd is an engaging, sympathetic companion who revels in language. Violet contributes her own brand of Appalachian plain-spoken, piquant, nearly Shakespearean hill talk to great effect. Kingsolver has overwritten a bit (which often happens when writers write about writers), but she has created a fascinating plot, evocative settings and a great cast of historical and fictional characters with which to explore her big themes. I happened to watch Good Night and Good Luck as I was reading this, and it made a brilliant companion piece to this sometimes exultant, sometimes horrific, always poetic, political, observant book.
The Lacuna: A Novel
By Barbara Kingsolver ($26.99). Available at Vroman’s and many other local bookstores.