A masterfully written dual timeline narrative, with unique and well drawn characters.
Unsheltered is a story of two families, who lived near the corner of Sixth and Plum in Vineland, New Jersey over 140 years apart. Both families are struggling with financial, political and social issues of their times.
It’s 2016 and Willa Knox and her husband are in their 50’s and nearing retirement. They have worked hard, followed all the rules and have nothing to show for it, but debts and a house that is falling apart. Willa’s magazine has folded and her husband’s college where he teaches has closed. In their dilapidated home, is Willa’s politically conservative father-in-law, Nick; her free-spirited adult daughter, Tig; and her unemployed Ivy League educated son, Zeke; who recently experienced a tragic loss.
In 1870’s, Thatcher Greenwood is a high school science teacher with a passion for investigation. He finds himself in hot water when he attempts to teach the work just published by Charles Darwin. His young bride and social-climbing mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his worries that their house is unsound. Thatcher’s friendship with a woman scientist, Mary Treat, and a renegade newspaper editor that threaten to draw him into a vendetta with the town’s most powerful men.
“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.”
A creatively layered narrative of two families living in Vineland New Jersey well over a century apart. Both families struggling with the foundation of a dilapidated house, as well as the foundation of values of the time.
The 2016 storyline brings Trump’s election into play, as well as Obamacare, global warming and racism. The 1870’s story has it own similar tyrant. Charles Landis, a real estate developer and founder of Vineland, also wants to control the narrative of the press. When he is unable to do so, the newspaper editor is shot in the middle of Vineland’s main street. Other issues brought to light in the 1870’s storyline were the role of women, women’s right to vote, and the teaching of creationism versus evolution.
One of my favorite parts of the book was when Thatcher meets Mary Treat for first time, and finds her with her finger in a Venus flytrap hoping to determine the plant’s effect on human skin. I was not familiar with Mary Treat and enjoyed learning about this self-taught scientist. I also enjoyed learning about the creation of Charles Landis’s utopian community in Vineland.
UNSHELTERED was interesting and entertaining, but it was author Barbara Kingsolver‘s writing that carried the book. It was masterfully written and the characters were extremely well drawn and diverse.
“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.”
Publisher Harper Collins/Harper Audio
Published October 16, 2018