Unsheltered and Undone: Barbara Kingsolver novels

Kudos to me: I really know how to drag something out.

I’ve been worried about running out of Barbara Kingsolver novels since at least 2007. And now, having finished Unsheltered, here I am.

Packing and Unpacking the Human Condition

I’ll spare you my in-depth review of Unsheltered, because for one thing, this isn’t really a review site.* Also, The Guardian ran two reviews: one very favorable, the other not-so-much. Both sides of the story, so to speak. For what it’s worth, I think the AP’s review was better than both of those.

But since this is my blog, I’ll admit, I didn’t fall head over heels for the book. At first.

As poet/author Kate Clanchy noted in her (not-so-favorable) review in The Guardian, the plot was difficult to follow at times. Actually, “plot” seems too strong; there was very little action. But there were two deaths, a birth, a little bit of sex, and a whole lot of backstory. So let’s call this a story.

And in the story, I found characters to love. OK, one character: Mary Treat. AND SHE’S REAL! (I love it when that happens. She studied all sorts of plants and insects, and several species of ants are named after her. Um. Did I mention this isn’t really a book review site?) Treat’s correspondence with Charles Darwin from the “utopian” society of Vineland, NJ could have stood alone. But it actually worked quite nicely as scaffolding for the story, so I read on. Plus, there is Kingsolver’s habit of turning out great – GREAT – sentences.

As The Guardian’s Benjamin Evans points out in his (favorable) review, “Kingsolver powerfully evokes the eeriness of living through times of social turmoil.”

Indeed.

Somehow in 400-odd pages she manages to weave bits of our modern world (Trump, Education, Corruption, Climate Change) into the broader canvas of life (greed, snobbery, love, kindness, evolution, death) and turn it into a story.

Not bad. Except sometimes it feels like a kick in the head. But, being a good writer that doesn’t want to alienate her readers, she includes enough hilarious Greek curses to make us laugh. With apologies to anyone who understands, “Putana thalasa pouse gamoun ta psaria.” (Something about the whore ocean where all the fish…never mind, it probably loses a lot in translation.)

She also includes some tantalizing prose to keep us reading. To wit, this nugget that encapsulates that oh-so-funny feeling when realize your tiresome, tyrannical father in law was once just as unbelievably hot as your husband –

“She’d kindly offered no judgment on Willa for failing to see the resemblance, the evergreen human crime of denying the past and seeing oneself as an original.” 

 So, even though I’m out of Kingsolver fiction, I’ll keep reading. I haven’t read picked up Animal Vegetable Mineralyet, and I know its time is coming. But what about novels? Who can recommend some great new fiction?

Please tell me what you’re reading and what I should check out at the library!


*What do you mean this isn’t a book review site?

Funny you should ask. I started this blog about books roughly a hundred years ago because I wanted 1- some blogging practice and 2- a way to keep track of what I read, liked, didn’t, wanted to read, what I would recommend to friends, and why. Also, I was hopeful that my reading friends would chime in and add their own seat-of-the-pants reviews. Or blathering diatribes on what they were reading. Or recipes I could read while I whined about how I’d read more books (and cook more) if only I had time.And here we are. If you’d like to submit a review, or anything, please, do!

Get in touch via my Facebook Page or website. Thanks for reading!

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