Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver
In poking around on the library’s website, I found a novel by Barbara Kingsolver that looked intriguing. It had been a while since I had read her work, but I had enjoyed the Poisonwood Bible several years ago.
Unsheltered is the story of two families who live on the same block of Vineland, New Jersey 140 years apart. It is a planned, utopian city, founded by Charles Landis, a notable eccentric who wanted the community to abide by his rules.
In the present day, Willa Knox and her multi-generational family move into a large, run down home that was willed to them when an aunt passed away. She goes looking for ways to help fund a renovation of the home, including seeking out grants based on the preservation of a historically significant home.
Back in the 1870s, Thatcher Greenwood lived in Vineland, a high school science teacher who is at odds with his principal for teaching evolution based science. Thatcher meets an unexpected ally and friend in his next door neighbor, Mary Treat, a middle aged woman with an interest in botany and small animals and insects.
Kingsolver weaves the two stories together, in her characteristic style of switching back and forth between the families and time periods. It is effortless and interesting, with her complex character development. You find yourself invested in their lives, cheering and cursing their decisions, and feeling their pain.
The historic context of this novel was the real win. Because Mary Treat is real, and the town of Vineland, New Jersey and its founder, Charles Landis, are real. Kingsolver makes these real life characters come to life on the page, and tells a part their stories for a new generation of readers.