What’s it like to live in a house that’s in shambles, and to live with the threat of becoming unsheltered, either as an individual, family, or nation?
In this novel for adults, renowned author Barbara Kingsolver skillfully weaves together the stories of two American families who live in different historical periods where shifting paradigms and changing rules cause seismic social changes. Setting her narrative in the years following the American Civil War and in present day United States, Kingsolver reveals how “the wounds of this ruptured nation lie open and ugly.”
In 1874, Thatcher Greenwood lives in a derelict house at the corner of Sixth and Plum in Vineland, New Jersey, along with his wife and her family. Their seemingly benevolent community is based on utopian ideals. Thatcher wants to teach his students the truth, as he sees it, of Charles Darwin’s revelations about natural selection, but his attempts are thwarted at every turn. The school’s principal and the community leaders revile his efforts, even as he finds support from a female scientist who lives next door and a journalist sympathetic to his views.
More than a century later, Willa Knox and her family—her husband, his cantankerous father, a rebellious daughter, and a grief-stricken son—move into an inherited home at Sixth and Plum. All of their adult lives they had played by the rules. Willa, a journalist of a now-defunct publication, and her husband, a professor without tenure, worked hard, expecting to climb the economic and social ladder. Instead they find themselves barely getting by as their house deteriorates around them.
In her substantial, stimulating narrative, which includes profanity and sexually explicit references, author Kingsolver draws perceptive parallels between the uncertainties—the threats of becoming unsheltered—in both Thatcher and Willa’s times. Kingsolver shows how people caught up in tumultuous historical changes flounder, search, and persevere until they either reject new realities or change with the times. In either case, she recognizes the human need to find shelter: to be loved and cared for, and to find meaning and a place in community. (Harper)