From the publisher:
The New York Times bestselling author of Flight Behavior, The Lacuna, and The Poisonwood Bible and recipient of numerous literary awards—including the National Humanities Medal, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Orange Prize—returns with a timely novel that interweaves past and present to explore the human capacity for resiliency and compassion in times of great upheaval.
How could two hardworking people do everything right in life, a woman asks, and end up destitute? Willa Knox and her husband followed all the rules as responsible parents and professionals, and have nothing to show for it but debts and an inherited brick house that is falling apart. The magazine where Willa worked has folded; the college where her husband had tenure has closed. Their dubious shelter is also the only option for a disabled father-in-law and an exasperating, free-spirited daughter. When the family’s one success story, an Ivy-educated son, is uprooted by tragedy he seems likely to join them, with dark complications of his own.
In another time, a troubled husband and public servant asks, How can a man tell the truth, and be reviled for it? A science teacher with a passion for honest investigation, Thatcher Greenwood finds himself under siege: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting work just published by Charles Darwin. His young bride and social-climbing mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his worries that their elegant house is unsound. In a village ostensibly founded as a benevolent Utopia, Thatcher wants only to honor his duties, but his friendships with a woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor threaten to draw him into a vendetta with the town’s powerful men.
Unsheltered is the compulsively readable story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum in Vineland, New Jersey, navigating what seems to be the end of the world as they know it. With history as their tantalizing canvas, these characters paint a startlingly relevant portrait of life in precarious times when the foundations of the past have failed to prepare us for the future.
Anytime Kingsolver publishes a book, it is an event, especially a new novel, and this one was worth the wait. That said, it probably helps that my politics align with hers. If you are unfamiliar with Kingsolver, she gently weaves issues throughout her novels. She is adept at doing so without hitting the reader over the head with a sledgehammer; it’s more like a Nerf bat.
The book moves back and forth between centuries, and I loved the device she used of taking the last words of one chapter and making them the chapter name of the next. It was surprising easy to follow both storylines, which isn’t always the case. The characters lead both storylines and they all were well developed – I expect no less from this author and she does not disappoint.
Kingsolver looks at healthcare, the environment, climate change, racism and the politics of the day, the current administration included. Again, subtlety is the game here but her points are well made and well taken. This should be a terrific book for discussion, although they may be heated discussions – and there is nothing wrong with that. Highly recommended.
10/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
UNSHELTERED by Barbara Kingsolver. Harper (October 16, 2018). ISBN 978-0062684561. 480p.