Book Corner 2020.4


Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Two stories going on at once, and as usually happens, I liked one much more than the other.  The protagonist of the modern-day story, Willa, is really a riot; a 50-something matriarch in a house that is literally falling apart.  Every other line that comes out of her mind is funny.  This story reminded me of The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver – in that case, the whole U.S. economy was falling apart; whereas Willa only has to deal with her own house and family.  But the sarcastic middle-aged woman trying to keep it all together is common to both.
In the other thread, a house on the same lot (though, we find out, not actually the same house) is coincidentally also falling apart – but over a hundred years in the past.  This story reminded me a bit of the Lydgate sub-story in Middlemarch – the ambitions of a man of science brought low by a pretty face.  Unfortunately I found this story mostly tedious and exaggerated.  The character of Mary Treat, the woman scientist, is intriguing; but the minor female characters (Polly, Selma) hit you over the head with caricature.  And the conversations just go on forever. 
Come to think of it, the conversations tend to drag in the modern-day story, too.  The characters are a bit better (though I disliked how Tig was always implied to be in the right).  And I really did look forward to getting back to their story – ceilings falling down; a tiny half-orphaned infant to tend to; and a hysterically funny, racist old father-in-law on life support.  Kingsolver at her best.

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