Barbara Kingsolver was born in 1955, and grew up in rural Kentucky. She earned degrees in biology from DePauw University and the University of Arizona, and has worked as a freelance writer and author since 1985. At various times in her adult life she has lived in England, France, and the Canary Islands, and has worked in Europe, Africa, Asia, Mexico, and South America. She spent two decades in Tucson, Arizona, before moving to southwestern Virginia where she currently resides.
[From Barbara Kingsolver authorized site]
Unsheltered is the compulsively readable story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum in Vineland, New Jersey, navigating what seems to be the end of the world as they know it. With history as their tantalizing canvas, these characters paint a startlingly relevant portrait of life in precarious times when the foundations of the past have failed to prepare us for the future.
1. How would you compare the two husbands in this story?
2. Do you have sympathy for two such well educated people succumbing to poverty?
3. How did Zeke turn out as he did?
4. Was giving up Aldus a good thing done by Zeke?
5. How did the two women closest the Thatcher compare?
6. How much did the dialogue with Zeke and Tig tell you about the younger generation?
7. How did bricks affect Willa’s plan for the house?
8. Who were the strongest characters in the book?
9. Is the author making a statement about our society?
10. What would you have done to get out of this financial mess if you will Willa and dealing with Llano?
11. Can you name three “good guys” and the “bad guys”?
12. What was Tig saying doing when she used “three words”?
This book is about two families separated by 150 years but connected by their relationship to a house. Both families were in dire straits financially and the similarity of their lives and family relationships were substance for the story. An interesting twist at the end revealed that the house in the story though old was not the same but was newly built on the site and not eligible for historic restoration funds.
In each family the husband was a teacher who was unsuccessful financially but was talented as a teacher. Both men suffered from the vagaries of academia. In one case the problem was with curriculum because the head of the school was a creationist, and the teacher was a scientist who wanted to teach Darwinism. In the second case the educational breadwinner had teaching positions shot out from under him in his bid for tenure which he never received. The author had her say on school administration and it was not kindly.
The dialogue of the younger generation in the contemporary family was well constructed and telling. The selfish privileged son and the idealistic free-thinking daughter spoke for their generation, each from the fringes. I would guess the author was on the side of the free-thinking mixed up Tig. It is not easy to like Zeke the Boston “financial guy” who walked away from his infant son.
The Puerto Rican family demonstrates positive family bonding despite hardship more implied than spelled out in the book. They demonstrated loyalty to family and to others. The description could be considered cliché. Willa and Llano, a freelance writer and non-tenured college professor, were not portrayed as sympathetic characters. It seemed unrealistic that they could have made such a mess of their professional lives. Except for one infidelity by Llano their married life was OK if a bit romanticized. The reader could suspect Willa married up in the looks department and clung on her husband. So much was said about how handsome Llano was while he was kind of a poor pitiful pearl” done in by the unfairness of academia. It is hard for the reader to be all that sympathetic with this self -satisfied dreamer who did not have a plan. Willa was portrayed as much more capable but under the spell of her “golden Greek”.
Society was hard on Thatcher as he struggled with close minded administrators and an immature but beautiful wife who sought and secured what was for her a better marriage. Thatcher tried but failed initially before making his mark. Thatcher was more of a victim than Llano who should have done much better. Thatcher’s wife was more like Willa and Llano’s son Zeke. Thatcher’s sister-in-law was more like Zeke’s sister, Tig.
It is not hard to tell where Willa or the author would line up in the voting booth after listening to the foul-mouthed father in law’s diatribe.
Barbara Kingsolver wrote a fine book. There are twists and turns that are not predictable making it a compelling and plausible read and close to a page Turner’.
By Gene Helveston
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