How can the experiences of a fictional loner merge with those of larger-than-life figures who played a pivotal role in world politics? And what can readers learn from their intersection? Those are the questions answered by this dazzling novel, which plunges into Shepherd’s notebooks to dredge up not only the perceptions they conceal but also a history larger than his own, touching on everything from Trotskyism, Stalinism and the Red scare to racism, mass hysteria and the media’s intrusion into personal and national affair … The Lacuna can be enjoyed sheerly for the music of its passages on nature, archaeology, food and friendship; or for its portraits of real and invented people; or for its harmonious choir of voices. But the fuller value of Kingsolver’s novel lies in its call to conscience and connection. She has mined Shepherd’s richly imagined history to create a tableau vivant of epochs and people that time has transformed almost past recognition.
Kingsolver neatly weaves this quiet, watchful man through tumultuous events that rocked two countries, and one of the most impressive feats of The Lacuna is how convincingly she tracks his developing voice, from when he's a sensitive teenager in 1929 until he becomes a national celebrity in the early 1950s … A ‘permanent foreigner,’ not at home in the United States or Mexico and aware that his budding homosexuality must not be expressed, young Shepherd quickly develops an outsider's detached perspective, tinged with loneliness. He has a sharp eye for the beauty of Mexico, its lush tropics and its colorful towns, and Kingsolver convincingly positions him near some of the era's larger-than-life figure.
Kingsolver's exploration (through all five senses) of Mexican and American geographies, weather, people, food, cultures, politics, languages and era-bound events - Hoover through World War II, Truman, Nagasaki - is masterful, and a reader receives the great gift of entering not one but several worlds. In the bargain, Kingsolver mulls the lonely rhythms of an artist's life … The Lacuna is a supremely ambitious work: a dense picaresque, glitteringly alive (particularly in the Mexico sections). Its lone flaw is the occasional pong of polemic … Kingsolver rescues her epic with an intricate, moving, deeply satisfying close, against the landscape she conveys best. The final pages haunt me still.