As usual I always have a book on the go and recently finished reading the new Barbara Kingsolver novel The Lacuna. It was certainly up to expectations – I’ve always loved every one of her books. It is set in Mexico in the 1930s and America in the 1950s. The main character is Harrison Shepherd, born of a Mexican mother and American father. His mother Salomé leaves his father, and flees to Mexico with the child, in pursuit of a comfortable living with a rich hacienda owner which fails to eventuate. Mexico, its history and the people he meets there, have a profound affect on Shepherd’s life.
Shepherd becomes addicted to writing as a child and records his observations in a series of notebooks. His style is curiously distant – he remains the observer not the subject in all his personal records.
It is through Harrison’s notebook observations that the story is transmitted. His path crosses that of the revolutionary muralist, Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo. The portrayal of Frida is wonderfully executed; she is brought vividly to life from the first encounter, when Shepherd sees her in a market buying birds. He describes her as a tiny Aztec queen.
Through the Rivera’s, Shepherd eventually meets Trotsky and becomes his cook and typist and witnesses his assassination.
A common theme through the novel relates to the power of words to influence other people for good or evil and how the truth is so easily twisted when used for political ends.
By the McCarthy era, Shepherd is living in America, and is the author of two very successful adventure novels set in ancient Mexico. McCarthy’s anti communist movement catches up to him with tragic consequences.
The Lacuna is a wonderful book, beautifully written – a many layered novel with a powerful message for these weasel word times.
Also recently read and very different to The Lacuna was Jeff VanderMeer’s noir fantasy, Finch.
A remarkable novel, it’s a noirish detective story ala Raymond Chandler, set in the surreal city of Ambergris, the locale for several of Jeff’s earlier novels. A city of nightmare, in this circumstance ruled by alien mushroom people called Gray Caps who have no love for humanity. Finch is pretty well unremittingly dark and bleak in tone and written in short, sharp sentences, a prose style that emphasises the hard boiled detective style.
John Finch, a reluctant detective is called in by his gray cap boss to investigate the double murder of a human and a gray cap, the human intact with no sign of violence, the gray cap missing its legs. Finch’s investigation takes him on a nightmare journey into the heart of Ambergris and beyond.
If you’re after a detective novel with a difference and appreciate strange fiction, you can’t go past this masterwork of surrealism. Even the cover art is tempting; the stunning design is by John Coulthart.
More reviews of Finch can be found here:
Washington Post review by Victor LaValle
Barnes & Noble Review by Elizabeth Hand
LA Times Review by Michael Harris