Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
HarperCollins: 10/16/18
eBook review copy; 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062684561

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver is a so-so novel with chapters that alternate between two centuries.

"Unsheltered 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 evolution recently 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 various topics.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

No comments: