(90) Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver [bk 8 of 10 for May]

This book was added because of the “K” of May, and wow did it surprise me. I have to be in the right mood for Kingsolver. My primary connection with her is The Poisonwood Bible, and as a somewhat traumatized missionary kid, you can bet that one hit a lot of nerves. This one is poised to hit so many other nerves: a middle-aged woman, journalist, wife to a tenured professor, is suddenly almost homeless when the university that husband worked at closes, taking faculty housing with it. Sudden, unexpected, resented, feared precarity. It’s 2016, and “the Blowhard” (Kingsolver’s name) is winning primaries, and clearly she doesn’t live in the world she thought she lived in.

And in 1880, a young academic is hired to teach at science at a school in a utopian community. But the leader of this community is vehemently opposed to science as we know it. Kingsolver traces an opposition between transcendental knowledge (coming from within) and research and observation, flexibility of beliefs in the presence of changing facts. She shows that the old guard, insistently defending Noah and divine providence against natural selection, are speaking and acting out of fear of an implacable change that they likely (not being the fittest) will not survive. And this is mirrored in the present, although the precarity and the lack of stuff is terrifying, it points to a new way of living, unsheltered, with community and barter and other joys instead of unstoppable and unsustainable consumption.

I thought this was going to be a downer– 2016 election is still just shatteringly horrible, feels like the end of a type of West Wing/good people working hard for the common good/type innocence. But it ended up hopeful. The change of an epoch is terrifying, but new will be different will be good.

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