"Barbara Kingsolver can do anything she wants."
I heard it at a book festival in 1998 from a publishing saleswoman with an advance copy of The Poisonwood Bible.
"Is it good?"
I never got around to The Poisonwood Bible. I have, however, read Kingsolver's other books, and have liked, if not loved them. I am especially fond of her elegantly-written novel, Prodigal Summer, which seemed to me to be going in a new more sophisticated direction: a contemporary Edith Wharton, I thought. Then there was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.), a beautifully written and well-researched book that nudged us to eat more locally grown fruits and vegetables. With The Lacuna, she has returned to political fiction and her fans are not pleased. They liked her simpler leftist books like The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven, but the political literary pop icon's ambitious new novel has not inspired awe.
People think it's flat, stuffed with research, and not very entertaining. In a panel discussion on The Book Studio, I heard it was just plain bad.
I want to read it anyway. I reason that since I admire her two most recent books more than her earlier work, this may be the one for me.
In the meantime, if you're a Kingsolver fan but haven't found exactly what you're looking for in the new book, let me recommend two other political novelists who are less well-known. Linda Hogan, a brilliant American Indian writer who weaves magic realism with leftist politics in her gorgeous novels, published The People of the Whale last year. This was my top book of 2008.
Brenda Peterson is another skillful novelist, and has actually collaborated with Hogan on a non-fiction book about gray whales. Her novel Animal Heart, published by Sierra Club Books, is about a wildlife specialist who investigates a mass stranding of whales and dolphins.