“Unsheltered” by celebrated author Barbara Kingsolver is perfectly titled. The book follows the families of Thatcher Greenwood in 1870 and Willa Knox in 2016, who share an address. Despite the 146-year difference, the families struggle with the same issues and as readers, we are invited to sympathize and recognize our own growing pains within the captivating prose.
As the physical house cracks and caves, so do their personal relationships and trust in the current times to keep them sheltered and safe.
Kingsolver’s structural choice to oscillate between time periods with each chapter seems justified when Thatcher reminisces on his experiences as a nurse during the war.
“When facing life’s end they (soldiers) always wanted to speak of where they had begun it,” he says.
Thatcher, a newlywed, has just moved to his wife’s home on Plumb Street in Vineland, New Jersey, a fledgling community boasting of economic and academic equality. However, what Thatcher finds are slivers of daylight peering through his bedroom walls and the salary of his tenuous employment as a high school science teacher inadequate to stabilize his home or community standing.
His devotion to Charles Darwin’s findings do nothing to ingratiate him with his neighbors or employers who fear evolution threatens man’s place above the beasts. Thatcher quickly finds that logic seldom wins out over poetry.
In 2016, Willa is former journalist for a magazine that has folded and her husband has secured employment in Vineland’s college as an economics teacher. The position doesn’t offer the family much financial security let alone the income to make repairs on their inherited home. Pressed to use her journalistic skills, Willa turns to the city’s historical museum in hopes of finding anything that will qualify her home as a historical landmark in need of preservation. What she uncovers is the fascinating life of Thatcher Greenwood and Vineland associate scientist Mary Treat, whose letters and appearances in the newspaper revitalize Willa’s hope and inspiration for writing.
Kingsolver’s novel sets out to pull us into the complicated dialogue of our current times and hold it against a history of upheaval.
Through the generations in both families, we are able to see the evolution of thinking, how younger minds remain pliable to new ideas and the need for resourcefulness over physical resources. Kingsolver manages to shape relatable and fresh characters inside of the known idea that change is inevitable and we seem biologically wired to resist it.
“Unsheltered” is expected for release Oct. 16.
Jessey Nickells reviews books for the Leavenworth Times. To contact her, send email to email@example.com