Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

I was initially disappointed with The Lacuna, mainly because I just didn’t feel it measured up to her previous novel The Poisonwood Bible. In fairness, very few books I’ve read measure up to The Poisonwood Bible, and leafing through The Lacuna a second time for quotes, I came to appreciate its slightly more subtle tone.


Harrison Shephered starts life as the son of a Mexican mother and an American father who is a civil servant in the Hoover administration. The book starts in Isla Pixol, Mexico in the late 1920s where Harrison and his mother have come to live with her new beau, oil man Enrique.

The solitary Harrison spends his days floating in the sea with goggles on, burning his back to a crisp while watching the fishes. His mother Salomé ought to be worried about his long disappearances, but seems more interested in the contents of her glass:

He refused to come out of the sea all day, until the colors began to go dark. Luckily his mother and Enrique had enough to drink, sitting on the terrace with the men from America turning the air blue with their cigars, discussing the assassination of Obregón, wondering who would now stop the land reforms before the indios took everything. If not for so much mezcal and lime, his mother might have grown bored with the man-talk, and thought to wonder whether her son had drowned.

Far younger than Enrique, Salomé celebrates her birthday in style, just not the style that her new man and his guests are used to:

Afterward Salomé tried to get them all to cut a rug. She cranked up the Victrola and waved the mezcal bottle at the men, but they went to bed, leaving her fluttering around the parlor like a balloon of air, let go. It was her birthday, and not even her son to whom she had given life would cut a rug with her. “For God’s sake, William, you’re tedious,” she diagnosed. Nose in the books, you’re nothing but a cancelled stamp. Flutie, green apples, wet blanket, this is only a sample of the names that came to mind when Salomé was stewed to the hat. He did try to dance with her after that, but it was too late. She couldn’t hold herself up on her own stilts.

Nearly always juiced of a night, and fast falling out with Enrique, Salomé is quickly propelling herself and her son to disaster:

Everything about Salomé came from a jar or a bottle: first, the powder and perfume, the pomade for her marcel wave. Next, the headache, from a bottle of mezcal. Then the cure, from a bottle of Bellans Hot-Water-Relief. Maybe some other bottle gave her the flapper-dancing, crank-up-the-Victrola Twenty-Three Skidoo. Stashed under a table drape in her room, something to help her keep it up.

Well, she can’t keep it up forever and after getting the heave-ho from Enrique’s they eventually end up in Mexico City. There Harrison becomes cook to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Salomé dies in a car crash on the way to see Howard Hughes. Young Harrison, cast adrift in the world, becomes the part time secretary of the fugitive Lev Trotsky, and slides into the history books, complete with a run in with the House Committee on Un-American Activities and a walk on part by Richard Nixon...

No comments:

Post a comment