The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
2009-11 – Hardcover
Every year when I’m on retreat I engage in a simple spiritual exercise called “walking the labyrinth.” The practice, as I do it, involves following a maze to the center and back out again. I enter the labyrinth barefoot and more or less prayerful, at least that’s my intention. But I also find myself more than a little self-conscious and slightly dubious about effects of such a tool. I take my first step, breathe in, breathe out, then take the next step. Step, in breath, out breath, step and so it continues until I reach the center. The ground is uneven, the earth cool, the air warm, stones and sticks appear underfoot nearly throwing me off balance but I continue. I breathe and I step. The entire experience can take more than an hour. But after a few turns, my eyes focused only on the few feet in front of me, I’m pulled into the spell of the labyrinth. Once I’ve reached the center I feel like an athlete who climbed a challenging mountain. Oddly, there’s a piece of me that thinks that I’ve completed my task and I can just walk across the maze of paths and go on to something else. I could. But I don’t. I proceed to unwind the path I just took to get me here. And when I’m finished and look back at the labyrinth I’m amazed at the power of the experience no matter how many times I do this.
All this is introduction to a book that had a similar effect on me. When I picked up The Lacuna I knew it was going to be good. It’s Barbara Kingsolver and she never disappoints. And yet, as the story begins I found myself pulled into a simple story about a boy and his mother in Mexico. Pieces of journals being revealed to me. A story is taking shape. And there are hints of a second narrator, who is she? What is this book doing? But soon the story grabs hold of me and I’m no longer thinking about the pieces, I’m savoring the path I’m on. I’m in Mexico, I’m in the United States, I’m back in Mexico. I’m meeting Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and a familiar story looms but I’ve never walked through this part of the story before. And then she hooks me. Barbara Kingsolver has sucked me into a brilliant tale of a writer who observes life keenly. Sure, you think it’s about the main character but I can see past that. It’s really about Kingsolver herself. No, this book is not autobiographical. This book shows you what a great storyteller she is. Here you will see an amazing depth of research, effortlessly portrayed in the lives of her characters. Here you will feel a sense of time and place where you’re convinced the author must have experienced each avenue traversed. And here you listen to the language that must be a part of her culture: spoken in Spanish, or with a backwoods Appalachian patois, or a Southern twang. Barbara Kingsolver gives us, as my friend Walt calls it, a “tour de force.”
The labyrinth that I walk each year is deceptively simple which draws me to a deeper sense of time, place and self. And The Lacuna is so much like this: a surprisingly simple story that takes you far away to a different time and place only to lead you back to yourself, where you started, on the brink of discovery. Isn’t that what a good book is supposed to do? Well, this is such a good book, not just good, it’s a masterpiece!
[I actually listened to the audiobook which is read by the author, and her interpretation of the story and voices is spellbinding. I questioned whether she could pull this off and she did with an ease that kept me listening for the full nineteen hours.]