From the award-winning author of Flight Behavior, The Lacuna, and The Poisonwood Bible, a novel alternating between two centuries focusing on two struggling people: present day Willa Knox—whose middle-class life crumbles when the magazine she built her career around folds and the college where her husband had tenure shuts down—and 19th Century science teacher Thatcher Greenwood, who is grappling with a headmaster hostile to his wish to discuss Darwin’s theory of evolution.
...[an] exceptionally involving and rewarding novel ... Kingsolver alternates between Willa’s droll reflections on her ever-worsening predicament, and Thatcher’s on his, subtly linking their equally compelling, alternating narratives with a repeated phrase or echoed thought, a lovely poetic device that gently punctuates the parallels between these two times of uncertainty ... There is much here to delight in and think about while reveling in Kingsolver’s vital characters, quicksilver dialogue, intimate moments, dramatic showdowns, and lushly realized milieus ... Kingsolver insightfully and valiantly celebrates life’s adaptability and resilience, which includes humankind’s capacity for learning, courage, change, and progress.
Kingsolver has long written socially, politically and environmentally alert novels that engage with the wider world and its complications and vulnerabilities ... In Unsheltered, she has given us another densely packed and intricately imagined book ... On its own, this economic-disaster narrative would be a sharp, if polemical, cautionary tale, an indictment of American life at an inflection point ... But Kingsolver is a novelist with more elaborate plans ... A dual narrative needs to be not only well choreographed, but also, more important, necessary. Kingsolver’s dual narrative works beautifully here ... The stories occasionally twine together in surprising ways ... Tonally, the book can be a bit loose-beamed. From time to time Kingsolver lingers on a secondary scene for an extra beat, and dialogue between family members can feel studied. But mostly, the accretion of moments generates the feeling of being inside a fully populated house of fiction ... engaged and absorbing.
Kingsolver, clearly, has an agenda in the book, which includes shock at Donald Trump emerging as an increasingly viable presidential candidate in early 2016. But her contemporary narrative is laced with wry, genial humor... and the 1870s half of her tale is a gripping study of how battling schools of thought can destroy personal lives ... There’s hard-won wisdom here, and profound doubt as to where our future is taking us. Kingsolver’s voice is urgent, eloquent, wily... For some readers, that may not feel like uplift. But it could, Kingsolver hints, be one way to stay sane.