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4 Burnside Literature- A to Z

The Lacuna


The Lacuna Cover

ISBN13: 9780060852573
ISBN10: 0060852577
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Author's Note


Titling a book should happen like a romance: the words should bedazzle the writer from the start. Getting swept off your feet is useful for book beginnings, as for marriage, as it can carry the smitten along through some of the constructive work and whining that inevitably lie ahead.

I've nursed this fantasy through many writing years: one after another, titles gazed at me across a crowded room and made me weak in the knees. The first time, I hardly knew what had hit me. I was a biology graduate student, walking across the University of Arizona campus to my favorite study haunt, an old brick library. I looked up to see the entire façade covered with an enormous wisteria vine, its branches flowing upward from one gnarled trunk, ending in a shimmering fringe of bean pods. I took it all in: the thousand pods, the absurdly arid ground, the roots that had pushed below cement, with their symbiotic microbes pulling nitrogen out of empty dirt to fuel this magnificent productivity. (As I mentioned, I was a graduate student.) "Bean Trees," I said aloud, and understood I needed to write a novel about how people living together in communities can draw resources from unlikely places. This was not what I'd planned to do with my life. It took a few years to break it to my graduate committee.

But my point is, the title and theme of the book arrived together. It happened again and again. Animal Dreams, Prodigal Summer, Small Wonder, I received each one as a gift, the only part of writing that seemed effortless and beyond my control. A good title holds magic, some cognitive dissonance, a little grit between the teeth, but above all it is the jumping-off place into wonder. Titling a book is not like putting a coat of paint on a finished house. It's like finding a skeleton key in the grass, then devising locks, building them into doors. The key allows entry into every part of the house.

Imagine my dismay, then, when I found myself several years into writing my thirteenth book and it didn't have a title. It had a label, of the kind one scribbles on a manila folder: a file-cabinet description for my poor unchristened project. Maybe I've outgrown love-at-first-sight, I thought. I consoled myself with the memory of a previous novel that had gone through several titles, all bad, (one of them so awful my agent made squawking sounds over the phone when I proposed it), but in time I’d seen the light and called it The Poisonwood Bible. Order returned after that. The next four book ideas arrived with titles attached.

Now, though, in the autumn of 2007, I was more than halfway through a draft of this novel whose name remained at large. Unlucky thirteen? I felt panic rising. Just in time to send me over the edge, I learned that the current Wikipedia entry for author Barbara Kingsolver made the bizarre claim that a new novel (titled with the file-folder name) would be released at the end of that month! "What's the problem?" my husband asked his supine wife, in a lull between her howls. "You’ve still got three weeks."

A full year later, I was finally closing in on a solid draft. This was the most difficult, research-intensive, delicious creation I'd ever sunk my teeth into — and I still had no idea what to call it. My story was full of secret passageways, tunnels through time and lives. It was about missing manuscript pages, dark caves, people who disappear against the backdrop, and the howling falsehoods that obscure quiet truths, all connected thematically with an underwater cave the protagonist discovers while diving in the sea. The image of that cave was as potent for me as the Bean Trees that stopped me in my career tracks twenty-two years before. I hungered for enough words to describe it.

I keep Roget's Thesaurus within reach of my desk chair. I love the heft of this white book, its treasury of associations, for even though no two words in our language have precisely the same meaning, a good thesaurus can lead you down the trail to exactly the one you need. I leafed through the wafer-thin pages. This sea-cave in my novel was a grotto, a chasm, an orifice, an interval, a missing link, a void, a... lacuna. Dear reader, I swooned. I heard the angel chorus, the cherubs fluttering overhead holding up the banner: THE LACUNA. This word whose many intertwined meanings unlocked every room in the house I'd built. I typed it, and stared. It's possible that I smacked myself on the forehead. I could not wait to march downstairs from my study and announce to my family, "I have a title! The Lacuna!" My husband put on his kindest I-hate-to-tell-you-this face. The trouble with my fabulous title, he offered, is that most people don't know what that word means.

"Oh," I said. "Well. I hope they will learn it soon."

I'll confess, I've had my moments of doubt. Or I've rationalized. I did name a novel Prodigal Summer, and almost nobody knows what prodigal means either. (It has nothing to do with returning home.) When people ask, "What is the name of your new book?" I brace myself for the furrowed brow. I am sorry, I wish it were otherwise, and if I've sent anyone begrudgingly to the dictionary, I swear I'm not out to thump the American noggin one vocabulary word at a time, this is not eighth-grade English. It's just that no other word will do. We have no exact synonym for lacuna, with its scent of old manuscripts and mystery, its dark salt taste of geology, its Latinate echoes, these grooves and ridges of meaning. This is the one. I found my key lying in the grass, in the nick of time. I suppose it must have been there all along.

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Average customer rating based on 23 comments:

smaasch, January 1, 2012 (view all comments by smaasch)
wonderful writing as one has come to expect from barbara kingsolver. learned a lot about mexican history. the character development was fabulous.
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Carolyn of Seattle, January 1, 2012 (view all comments by Carolyn of Seattle)
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver is the best book that I read this year. We've bought a half dozen more to send to friends and family as gifts.
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Lena Wright, September 5, 2011 (view all comments by Lena Wright)
This past year, I chose Barbara Kingsolver as the subject of my junior thesis. Having already read two of her older novels, Prodigal Summer and The Poisonwood Bible (both of which I would recommend to any fan of epic fiction), I was eager to read her newest work. The Lacuna surprised me in many ways. The main character is male, something which she doesn't usually do. And although it spans a great length of time, like The Poisonwood Bible, it doesn't focus so much on stark black and whites. Reading other reviews of it, many people think this is her worst work. But contrary to what many reviewers wrote, I found it to be one of her more complex works about human nature and an intriguing look into Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo's relationship. Definitely worth reading!
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Product Details

Kingsolver, Barbara
McIntosh, Fiona
Identity (psychology)
Historical fiction
General Fiction
Science / General
Situations / Adolescence
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 3 to 7
9 x 6 x 1.00909 in 17.12 oz
Age Level:
from 8 to 12

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Related Subjects

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
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The Lacuna Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.50 In Stock
Product details 528 pages Harper - English 9780060852573 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Waiting for a new Kingsolver novel has been like waiting for a favorite restaurant to reopen after renovations, only it's been nine years of anticipation. With the grand depth of The Poisonwood Bible, The Lacuna tells of historical and intercultural intrigue, amidst relationships that unfold slowly, drawing out their flavors. Kingsolver's research rewards us with accurate representations of exciting historical figures. Her themes of social change have a timeless relevance. It's a pleasure to be immersed once again in the kaleidoscope of Barbara Kingsolver's imagination and skill.

"Review A Day" by , "Kingsolver, at the top of her craft, builds pyramids of language and scenic highways through mountains of facts, while plotting a mostly tight course through the fictional premises that convey her writing's social conscience. In this book, pacifism, social justice, and free expression are the standards she shoulders." (read the entire Bookforum review)
"Review" by , "Rich...impassioned...engrossing...Politics and art dominate the novel, and their overt, unapologetic connection is refreshing."
"Review" by , "Compelling...Kingsolver's descriptions of life in Mexico City burst with sensory detail — thick sweet breads, vividly painted walls, the lovely white feet of an unattainable love."
"Review" by , "Breathtaking...dazzling...The Lacuna can be enjoyed sheerly for the music of its passages on nature, archaeology, food and friendship; or for its portraits of real and invented people...But the fuller value...lies in its call to conscience and connection."
"Synopsis" by , In her first novel in nine years, New York Times-bestselling author Kingsolver tells the story of Harrison William Shepherd, an unforgettable protagonist whose search for identity takes readers to the heart of the 20th century's most tumultuous events.
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