Two-for-One Review: “Solar” and “The Lacuna”April 29, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Posted in Fiction, Two-for-One Review, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
Everyone has at least one favorite author whose newest offering makes us tremble with excitement, even if we don’t know what it’s about yet. Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver are two of the authors on my own list. I was surprised to realize I was finding parallels between their new work.
(Notice the two book covers are actually somewhat color-coordinated, and both have a round shape in the center? I just thought that was cool).
Solar is, as far as I can tell, a bit of a departure for McEwan, because it’s actually funny. (I’ve only read four of his books – I’m hoarding them for a rainy day – but I hadn’t counted on humor from him). It’s not just funny; it’s even screamingly funny, at least in one scene. What it’s really about, though, is a bad person who might be able to save the world for all the wrong reasons. It’s almost a parable for the human condition, and I think there are layers and layers of subtle meaning here. In my opinion, it’s his most powerful work.
The Lacuna has what Kingsolver does best, which is a warm, immersive look at another culture. It’s about an ordinary person (or at least he thinks he is) caught up in the midst of history, and what a maelstrom of history it is. It’s put together in the form of diary entries, newspaper articles, and letters. While it’s probably being promoted as a book about Frida Kahlo, it’s really more about communism and government control.
Both books are tremendously earnest about a political issue. McEwan talks about global warming, and it’s impossible to miss the message. Kingsolver wants to ask us why we are still blowing off communism, just because Stalin tricked Trotsky and stole leadership of the party. (Is it our fascist government?) As books with a message, Solar is highly effective; McEwan excels as always at giving his characters complicated jobs and rich intellectual lives, putting the scientific elements of his story within the reader’s grasp. Kingsolver starts with the assumption that the reader gets the basic premise of communism and is perhaps even sympathetic to it. The Lacuna revolves around the question of Why Are These Innocent People Being Tormented, but it only works if the reader’s educational background does not lead to the conclusion that they deserve it because their politics are wrong.
Both books can be read as interesting stories about interesting characters. Political books tend to put people off, though, and I think it’s possible in both cases that readers who are not already in the same camp will wish these were issue-free. After all, we read for escape, right?