One time I was in Canada in the summer. We were driving a long distance and we stopped by the side of the road at a small park for a short rest to stretch our legs. I got out of the car and I felt like I was stepping into a wonderfully warm pool. The air was so thick with humidity that I really felt like I was swimming for a second. It smelled like water--like a sweet lake. My utter delight was short lived, as I was almost right away introduced to the mosquitoes that lived in that park and I retreated back to the car. But I never forgot that feeling of the wonderful pool of air surrounding me.
Reading Kingsolver is like stepping out of that car into the wonderful pool of air surrounding me. Her storyline itself is not extraordinary. We follow a boy becoming a man finding a place for himself in the world in a solitary introverted persona. I do not seek out books of fiction that deal with historical events and this book touches quit a few. [As an aside, I am often struck by how things come to me in the world--coincidence or not, I have recently read or heard of many of the esoteric events touched on in this book--weird.]
So objectively, I should not like this book. I am not well read. Against 50% of the population of this country, I would seem very well read, but against that small portion of the population that is actually well read, I know that I am not. I couldn't finish Moby Dick to save my life. I really felt that I couldn't hold my head up as an intellectual unless I finished that damn book and I couldn't do it, but I digress.
Perhaps it is like art or poetry. Some pieces speak to me in a way that others are completely silent. Chemistry. We are genetically programed or taught to appreciate some things differently than others. Kingsolver's writing surrounds me. It is hard to wrap my mind around the fact that this book is not the top selling book making people want to stay home and miss the new Twilight movie, but I digress.
The Lacuna is a wonderful book. It is set as a series of journals by our protagonist over the period of his life beginning at age 14 to his death some 20 years later. It has a happy ending, I promise. Our protagonist is a writer. His mother starts him on this journey by insisting that he record their existence when frightened by extinction. Later, she and others attempt to stop him from writing, but he doesn't just want to write--he must write, as he must breathe. The first person to take notice of him--to care about him, teaches him to cook and introduces him to the Lacuna--a hidden cave in the ocean that can only be reached on a certain day of the month because of the tide. And so begins the tapestry of interwoven stories and themes that run throughout his life--all connected and yet different and new. The howlers, the media which either lie all the time or save it for a special occasion to make it more convincing. The lacuna--an empty space; gap, a cavity or depression from the Latin, meaning pool. "an unspeakable breach--the lacuna--between truth and public presumption." And history--seeing the ordinary people of history. Exposing prejudice, not just between race and tribes, but between rich and poor, ruling class and serving class. And love--exploring the futility, the perseverance, the resilience, the folly, the fickle, the strength.
I have a few memorable lines that struck me and I had to record them separately. When he is at school and bored and miserable.
"Mathematics: the worst... Algebra, a language spoken on the moon. For a boy with no plans to go there."
And of unrequited love, he wrote a very moving love letter, but is afraid to give it. Unknowingly, the person
"dropped the envelope in the wastepaper basket."
Metaphors so thick, I have to brush them away.
"The purpose of art is to elevate the spirit, or pay the surgeon's bill. Or both, really. It can
help a person remember or forget.... Art by itself is nothing, until it comes into that house."
And finally after being completely crucified in the press a
"Universal declaration of rights of the howlers: Article 1. All human beings are endowed with the god-given right to make firewood from the fallen tree. Article 2. Any tree will do. If it is tall, it should be cut down. The quality of wood is no matter, the tree asked for it by growing tall. A decent public will cheer to see it toppled. Article 3. Rules of normal kindness do not extend to the celebrated person. Article 4. All persons may hope to become celebrated. Article 5. It is more important to speak than to think. The only danger is silence. Article 6. A howler must choose one course or the other: lie routinely, or do so only on important occasions, to be more convincing."
Kingsolver accomplishes what her protagonist does. He writes books about historical events from the perspective of the ordinary person in ancient Mexico. Kingsolver writes a book about a series of historical events from the 30's and 40's from the perspective of an ordinary person. This reader felt immersed in the warm pool exploring. The phone is ringing--damn mosquitos.
P.S. If you've never read The Poisonwood Bible I highly recommend it as well.