Hooray!--Barbara Kingsolver's long-awaited next novel is finally here! Even though I am a big Kingsolver fan, I wasn’t sure whether I would like The Lacuna. I had read a couple of not-so-favorable reviews, and thought it sounded a bit dry and political. But I gave it a go ... and, I'm happy to say, I loved it!
The Lacuna is the story of Harrison Shepherd, a fictional young writer growing up in Mexico in the 1930s and 40s. As a teenager, Shepherd is hired by famous Mexican nationalist painter Diego Rivera as a plaster mixer for his mural project, and is befriended by Rivera’s wife, the brilliant and passionate painter Frida Kahlo. He becomes their cook, secretary, and a trusted member of their household. Rivera and Kahlo, both Communists, provide political sanctuary to Léon Trotsky, exiled during the Stalin regime. Though Shepherd is never officially a member of the Communist Party, this association comes back to haunt him during the McCarthy era, after he has moved to the United States. Shepherd, who is gay, becomes a popular author, but suffers from agoraphobia, and is always something of an outsider, at home neither in Mexico nor in the U.S. He forms a close, though nonsexual, relationship with his secretary, Violet Brown. When he is under investigation, blacklisted for his Communist ties, Shepherd orders Brown to destroy the journals he has been keeping since he was a child, lest they fall into the wrong hands. But she defies his wishes and hides the journals instead. These journals, along with letters and newspaper clippings, comprise most of the novel.
I recommend The Lacuna to fans of historical fiction, strong, well-developed characters, and beautiful writing. It is a highly engaging and very moving story. It is Kingsolver’s most complex work, and, in my opinion, certainly one of her best. While sad, its ending (unlike that of The Magicians) is emotionally satisfying.