2019 Reading List: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

This was supposed to be one of the “best books of 2018” and it was on lists for the O Magazine and Newsweek. I say “supposed to be” because I was just not a fan.

Maybe I missed something. I found Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver to be tedious and slow and disconnected. It was boring. I kept waiting for the plot to thicken, for something interesting to actually happen.  But the only thing that happened was the house kept falling apart and no one, in either time period, was able to actually fix it.

Maybe I missed some deeper meaning. Maybe there were parallels I was supposed to draw, metaphors to decipher, or allegories to interpret. But I didn’t catch them. Maybe because I would read two pages before drifting off, so it took me weeks longer than usual to finish the book.

If I missed the point of this book, then so be it. I don’t have to like everything.

This book took place in two different time periods, following two different families who both lived in (arguably) the same house. In both cases, the house is falling apart, literally. The walls are caving in, the roof is leaking, it’s beyond repair. Or rather, it could be repaired if either of the homeowners could afford to. In both circumstances, the families are broke. They have low-paying teaching jobs and are struggling to make ends meet.

In the past, Thatcher Greenwood and his family live in the supposed utopia of Vineland. Thatcher is passionate about science and Charles Darwin and proven facts, whereas the town is run by men who believe in God, who refute science and logical understanding. Thatcher butts heads with his employer and is on the verge of losing his job, and his wife and family, since all they want is to rise in high-class society. Thatcher is increasingly outcast within the town, but he makes friends with the neighbor woman-scientist who happens to correspond directly with Charles Darwin. Thatcher also sides with the independent newspaper and the man who publishes it and its “radical” ideas. It’s not hard to see where this is going.

Meanwhile in present day, Willa and her family live in the dilapidated house because she lost her job and her husband lost tenure. They have very little income, but they are taking care of her ill, aging father-in-law and now their two grown children, plus a grandchild. Willa’s last hope is that her house is the very house that the famous female scientist lived in so that they could get money for renovations and put it on a historical registry. It’s not, obviously, so they just keep living there even when the rain is coming in and they can only heat one room and they have no food in the fridge. The daughter is a weird environmentalist, the son is a widower with a son, whom he ends up leaving with his family while he runs off in search of making it big at a start-up company.

There really wasn’t some great climax or epiphany or conclusion that I could decipher. If this all sounds a little random and scattered, it’s because that’s how my brain interpreted it. I didn’t really see a significant connection between the two families, I didn’t get the point of the whole thing, and I thought there was too much random events going on to string anything together.

But that’s my two cents. I don’t think I truly spoiled anything in this book if you’re still inclined to read it.


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