Sunday, November 21, 2010

Discussion questions ~ Bonnie's answers

click to enlarge
This photo shows a cenote, defined as "a deep natural well or sinkhole, especially in Central America, formed by the collapse of surface limestone that exposes ground water underneath, and sometimes used by the ancient Mayans for sacrificial offerings."

8.  Frida tells Harrison, "The most important thing about a person is always the thing you don't know" (p. 218).  Years later, he writes to her, saying, "Frida, you always said the most important thing about any person is what you don't know.  Likewise, then, the most important part of any story is the missing piece" (p. 277).  How does this relate to the book's title?
Alison said (in a comment) that she's "still working on The Lacuna."  Getting through it was like work, in some ways.  The story wasn't exciting enough to pull me along, but when I reached the last part and the whole thing came together, I was left feeling very satisfied with the book.  I guess you can tell from the second set of questions (where I posted a different picture of an underwater cave) that part of my enjoyment came from the cave called "la lacuna" hidden beneath the waves.

A lacuna is a gap or missing part.  People seemed to think, for example, that they knew the author named Harrison Shepherd because they had read his books or because newspapers reported this or that about him.  At the end of the book (something for you to look forward to, Alison), Mrs. Brown discovered a gap in her knowledge of the man, when she realized she didn't know some important things about him, even though she had worked for him for years and had even traveled with him on business a time or two.  That's the lacuna that matters.
Joe McCarthy with his aide Roy Cohen
11.  Were you surprised by the way statements were twisted during the McCarthy trials?
Like Shirley (see the comments), I was really drawn to what Barbara Kingsolver wrote about the McCarthy period.  I remember how uneasy I felt about the televised hearings, even at the age of twelve, when we got our first television in 1952.  I cringed at the thought of Senator McCarthy ruining the lives of so many people, realizing, even then, that there was no way to refute the nebulous charges.
9. Did you like the format, using journals and letters?
10. What did you think of Violet Brown, who worked for Harrison?

Violet Brown was a mousy little woman, but she was completely loyal to her boss.  I can't say I liked her much, otherwise.  And she's the one (other than the book's author) who gets the blame for what we call "the format" of the story, using journals and letters.  Mrs. Brown is the one who chose what to include, which thing should come next, and how the whole fit together.
1.  Do Harrison's diaries feel realistic to you?  Does he sound like a 12-year-old at the beginning ... and later like a mature man?  What kind of boy was he?  What do you think of him?
12.  How did Harrison Shepherd change over the course of the novel?
Yes, his "later" writings seemed more mature, but no, the early ones didn't quite seem like the writings of a child.  Maybe it's because I'm teaching two writing classes that I'm aware of the meticulous wording and punctuation in his early diaries, so I'll forgive the (mostly) perfect entries -- except for an occasional comma splice or two.  (grin)  Harrison Shepherd became more reserved as he became aware of his own sexuality and of the world's unfathomable ways of treating anyone who thinks differently.  And finally, he was almost a hermit, trying to keep away from those who admired or hated him.  What he longed for, finally, was the ultimate escape.
7.   What new things have you learned from reading this book?
I've read reviews of The Lacuna by lots of people, including some who thought the author brought in too many famous people.  I think her choices worked the other way around, that she used the fact that Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Leon Trotsky were
all together in one place and time and plunked her protagonist (Harrison Shepherd) down in the midst of them.  Because these people were in the book, I looked them up and read more about them, finding Diego's mural in Detroit and his famous mural in Mexico City because I was really learning something about these people in depth for the first time -- even though I'd heard their names and could have told you a fact or two about Trotsky.


Bonnie Jacobs said...

I'm wrapping up the month by providing some of my own answers to DQs about The Lacuna. There are no spoilers.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I rewrote much of what I've posted and put it into a book review on my blog, if anybuddy is interested:

Shirley said...

Thanks for your insight. I remember, too, that much of the reading did seem like work. The ending did bring it together and I did find the coverage of the McCarthy interesting.

alisonwonderland said...

I'm not sure why my reading is going so slowly. It's not that I'm not enjoying the book. I do want to know what is going to happen to Harrison Shepherd. I also find Kingsolver's writing to be beautiful, and I'm learning a lot about history that I didn't really know before. But I'm still less than halfway through the book.

Shirley said...

I remember hitting a similar stage in my reading (but I was finding Kingsolver's writing less beautiful than your description) in which I didn't seem to make any progress, but later it picked up and I became more interested in finding out what happened next.

alisonwonderland said...

I finally finished The Lacuna. I've posted some thoughts on my blog here. I really did think it was an amazing book!

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I realized Jennifer, Shirley, and I were talking about The Lacuna in comments on the wrong post. So here's what we've been saying:

Jennifer said...

Did you like The Lacuna, Bonnie?

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Here's my review of The Lacuna, which I rated 8 of 10.

I'm glad I read the book, but it is far from Kingsolver's best, in my opinion. My favorites are Prodigal Summer (novel), Animal Dreams (novel), and High Tide in Tucson (essays).

Shirley said

Superb review. Your rating made me curious about what I had rated it so I checked my book journal and realized that even though I didn't like it nearly as much as Poisonwood Bible that I still gave it a 10:

Kingsolver, Barbara—The Lacuna. Finished 4/25/10. Rating 10; fiction. Story of American born (1916) Mexican raised author Harrison Shepherd is told primarily through his journals and letters. While in Mexico, he meets and works for artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and through them exiled political leader Lev Trotsky. It is his friendship with them that later haunts him and he becomes falsely accused while living in Asheville, North Carolina of being a Communist by the Committee on Un-American Activities. His faithful secretary Violet Brown later gathers his writings for the book. It was the ending that brought the book together. A good read, but I liked Poisonwood Bible better.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Thanks for sharing your notes, Shirley. Very nice summary.