Excerpt from The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Lacuna

A Novel

by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2009, 528 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2010, 544 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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Print Excerpt


It was true: the creatures were long-tailed monkeys, eating leaves. How could such a howling come from a thing so honestly ordinary? But it did. The boy crept outdoors early and learned to spot them, high in the veil of branches against white sky. Hunched, woolly bodies balanced on swaying limbs, their tails reaching out to stroke the branches like guitar strings. Sometimes the mother monkeys cradled little babes, born to precarious altitudes, clinging for their lives.

So there weren’t any tree demons. And Enrique was not really a wicked king, he was only a man. He looked like the tiny man on top of a wedding cake: the same round head with parted, shiny hair, the same small moustache. But the boy’s mother was not the tiny bride, and of course there is no place on that cake for a child.


When Enrique wanted to ridicule him after that, he didn’t even need to mention devils, he only rolled his eyes up at the trees. “The devil here is a boy with too much imagination,” he usually said. That was like a mathematics problem, it gave the boy a headache because he couldn’t work out which was the wrong part of the equation: being a Boy, or being Imaginative. Enrique felt a successful man needed no imagination at all.

Here is another way to begin the story, and this one is also true.

The rule of fishes is the same as the rule of people: if the shark comes, they will all escape, and leave you to be eaten. They share a single jumpy heart that drives them to move all together, running away from danger just before it arrives. Somehow they know.

Underneath the ocean is a world without people. The sea-roof rocks overhead as you drift among the purple trees of the coral forest, surrounded by a heavenly body of light made of shining fishes. The sun comes down through the water like flaming arrows, touching the scaly bodies and setting every fin to flame. A thousand fishes make the school, but they always move together: one great, bright, brittle altogetherness.

It’s a perfect world down there, except for the one of them who can’t breathe water. He holds his nose, dangling from the silver ceiling like a great ugly puppet. Little hairs cover his arms like grass. He is pale, lit up by watery light on prickled boy skin, not the scaled slick silver merman he wants to be. The fish dart all around him and he feels lonely. He knows it is stupid to feel lonely because he isn’t a fish, but he does. And yet he stays there anyway, trapped in the below-life, wishing he could dwell in their city with that bright, liquid life flowing all around him. The glittering school pulls in at one side and pushes out the other, a crowd of specks moving in and out like one great breathing creature. When a shadow comes along, the mass of fish darts instantly to its own center, imploding into a dense, safe core, and leaving the boy outside.

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Excerpted from The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. Copyright © 2009 by Barbara Kingsolver. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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