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

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Unsheltered

A Novel

by Barbara Kingsolver

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver X
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2018, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 15, 2019, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Print Excerpt

1. Falling House

"The simplest thing would be to tear it down," the man said. "The house is a shambles."

She took this news as a blood-rush to the ears: a roar of peasant ancestors with rocks in their fists, facing the evictor. But this man was a contractor. Willa had called him here and she could send him away. She waited out her panic while he stood looking at her shambles, appearing to nurse some satisfaction from his diagnosis. She picked out words.

"It's not a living thing. You don't just pronounce it dead. Anything that goes wrong with a structure can be replaced with another structure. Am I right?"

"Correct. What I am saying is that the structure needing to be replaced is all of it. I'm sorry. Your foundation is nonexistent."

Again the roar on her eardrums. She stared at the man's black coveralls, netted with cobwebs he'd collected in the crawl space. Petrofaccio was his name. Pete. "How could a house this old have a nonexistent foundation?"

"Not the entire house. You see where they put on this addition? Those walls have nothing substantial to rest on. And the addition entails your kitchen, your bathrooms, everything you basically need in a functional house."

Includes, she thought. Entails is the wrong word.

One of the neighbor kids slid out his back door. His glance hit Willa and bounced off quickly as he cut through the maze of cars in his yard and headed out to the alley. He and his brother worked on the vehicles mostly at night, sliding tools back and forth under portable utility lights. Their quiet banter and intermittent Spanish expletives of frustration or success drifted through Willa's bedroom windows as the night music of a new town. She had no hard feelings toward the vehicle bone yard, or these handsome boys and their friends who all wore athletic shorts and plastic bath shoes as if life began in a locker room. The wrong here was a death sentence falling on her house while that one stood by, nonchalant, with its swaybacked roofline and vinyl siding peeling off in leprous shreds. Willa's house was brick. Not straw or sticks, not a thing to get blown away in a puff.

The silence had extended beyond her turn to speak. Mr. Petrofaccio courteously examined the two mammoth trees that shaded this yard and half the block. Willa had admired the pair of giants out her kitchen window and assumed they were as old as the house, but hadn't credited them with a better life expectancy.

"I have no idea why someone would do that," he finally offered. "Put up an addition with no foundation. No reputable contractor would do that."

It did seem to be sitting directly on the ground, now that she looked, with the bottom courses of bricks relaxing out of rank into wobbly rows. A carapace of rusted tin roofing stretched over the gabled third floor and the two-story addition cobbled on the back, apparently in haste. Two tall chimneys leaned in opposite directions. Cracks zigzagged lightning-wise down the brick walls. How had she not seen all this? Willa was the one who raised her anxiety-shield against every family medical checkup or phone ringing after hours, expecting the worst so life couldn't blindside them. But she'd looked up contractors that morning with no real foreboding. Probably assuming her family had already used up its quota of misfortune.

"I can't hire you to tear down my house and start over." Willa ran her hands through her hair at the temples, and felt idiotic. Both-hands-on-the-temples was a nervous habit she'd been trying to break for about twenty years, since her kids told her it made her look like The Scream. She shoved her fists into the pockets of her khaki shorts. "We were thinking we'd fix it up, sell it and get something closer to Philadelphia. We don't need this much room. Nobody needs this much room."

Excerpted from Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. Copyright © 2018 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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