Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver


Hello, my name is Bev, I’m a backslidden blogger. It has been about six months since my last book review. And I’m terrified by both the overwhelming feelings of “I may never blog again” and “Once I start, I’ll be blogging again, and I may never stop”.

So it’s safest to start with a trusted author. I read this back before I stopped blogging – Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver.

Kingsolver, forever remembered for The Poisonwood Bible, has written a plethora of books. The only one I enjoyed was the famed one – Lacuna was not finished. This one was devoured on a long car trip – the Audible version.

Barbara (it really is her – she reads the audiobook, and she does so well) tells the story of Willa Knox, who is a little like all of us. Okay, maybe just me, but I loved her – she was just ever so relatable. She’s a responsible parent, wife, friend and writer (see 😇), but has found herself middle-aged, with a number of fully grown adults dependent on her, and very few resources available (including the absence of a career 😜) to satisfy their endless needs. Her son, Zeke, daughter Tig and obstreperous (Greek) father-in-law are the primary of these. Her husband tries, but that only makes him more trying.

So Willa, as one does, decides to investigate the history of her ancient, falling down house, hoping it’s of some value so she can raise some funds to restore it. In doing so, she discovers the story of Thatcher Greenwood, a science teacher and his friend, the naturalist Mary Treat (a real life historical character). They are most interested in the truth, and Mary corresponds with Charles Darwin, who holds views that were unpopular with the evangelical leaders of the time, including Thatcher’s boss. There’s more history courtesy of Vineland, and its founder, Charles Landis. Fascinating, and very entertaining.

Kingsolver does not shy away from tackling tricky questions, or from exposing current thought patterns from leaders as the amorphous mess they often are. She does this in a light and humorous way, but for those who are big believers in the current regime, they may feel attacked. Here’s an example:

“I suppose it is in our nature,” she said finally. “When men fear the loss of what they know, they will follow any tyrant who promises to restore the old order.” 

As the story draws us in, more bad things happen, as they do, and all the poignant personal interactions between family members – who have evidently experienced all the highs and lows that relationships bring – are a lovely counterpoint to the shitstorm raging around them. A reminder that humanity has come this far, and if you’ve got someone to love, you may just make it. Don’t you love these excerpts?

“The thing is, Mom, the secret of happiness is low expectations. That’s a good reminder, right there. If you didn’t lose your husband and kids all in one year, smile! You’re ahead of the game.”

“His confidence was enviable and maddening. Most of the time she didn’t want him to solve or contradict her worries, she just needed him to listen and agree with her on the awfulness at hand. This was a principle of marriage she’d explained many times.”

And a personal favourite –

“There but for the grace of serotonin go the rest of us.”

As you may be able to tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I think the author (deliberately) pushed some buttons, probably upsetting quite a few fans in the process, but I admire her for it. Some of those things needed to be said. Yes, in a novel – where else does one discover any truth?

“Even this far inland, New Jersey was still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, which in its time, a few years back, had been called the storm of the century. How foolish it seemed now to label anything “of the century.” This one was still a teenager with an anger-management problem and a long future ahead.”

“How had she not seen all this? Willa was the one who raised her anxiety shield against every family medical checkup or late-night ring of the phone, expecting the worst so life couldn’t blindside them.” 

Yay, I wrote a review. See, Bev – that wasn’t so hard.

ISBN: 9780062865502

You may also enjoy Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers, or Anne Patchett’s Commonwealth

3 thoughts on “Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

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