Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
eBook review copy; 480 pages
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver is a so-so novel with chapters that alternate between two centuries.
is the story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner
of Sixth and Plum, as they navigate the challenges of surviving a world
in the throes of major cultural shifts."
Due to circumstances, Willa Knox and her husband Iano are in their
fifties with nothing to show for their life-long hard work but unpaid
bills and an inherited brick home in
Vineland, New Jersey, that is literally falling apart. The magazine she
worked for went broke as did the college where her husband had tenure.
Now, in an effort to try and get some kind of grant to pay for repairs
to their home, Willa is researching the past residents, all while
dealing with an increasingly stressful present day circumstances.
In the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood lived in the home with his wife, and
sister and mother-in-law. Even then it was falling apart but Thatcher
was unable to repair it. While he is excited about the theory of
published by Charles Darwin, his
employer forbids him to speak to the students about it. Thatcher
befriends his neighbor, naturalist Mary Treat (a real-life 19th-century
biologist) but his support of Darwin threatens his job and marriage.
There is no doubt that Kingsolver is technically an excellent writer. I have been a fan of her novels for years. In Unsheltered the
alternating chapters highlight the two stories and nicely compared and
contrasted the two time periods. Both characters and settings in each
time period have a distinctive voice and are firmly set in their
historical context. So, from a writing standpoint, it is a well-written
novel with a good flow to both storylines.
Now, I wasn't sure I would address my issues with the novel or not. I
thought I'd wait and see if my feelings softened over time. They didn't.
First, it is a slow moving novel and the plots in both time periods
should have been tightened up. Considerably. At times it was hard to
keep reading. I kept at it just because it was a Kingsolver novel.
Also, a lecturing tone is entirely too prolific in this novel. It is one
thing to give your characters a wide variety of views, some of which
you personally take a firm stance on, but it is never a good idea to
alienate your readers, your fans even, and write a book lecturing us
about what we have to believe. Even if I support every word she has
written, I am disappointed in the tone in which it is presented. Please
give your readers the benefit of believing they are thinking rational
human beings who can and will have their own unique points-of-view on
My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.