The second part of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Laguna is so different from the first that it seems as though it ought to be clearly labelled a sequel.
In the earlier part, Fletcher is depicted growing up with his feckless mother in Mexico, moving from place to place, and finding positions first in the household of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and then with Lev Trotsky. The text is lavishly sprinkled with Mexican words and Frida Kahlo’s version of English is gloriously mangled. The world is colourful.
In the second part, Fletcher makes his rather grey, adult life in the US after the death of his American father. At first, he succeeds as a writer and it seems as though this lonely character has found a suitable niche. But he is living in the US during the McCarthy era and he comes to the attention of government agents. His former associations are taken as clear evidence of Communist sympathies.
Here, there is another lacuna: missing notebooks that could be used against Fletcher. It is also the gap between truth and reputation. Kingsolver delivers a frightening portrait of a net closing in around Fletcher, where wild accusations are given the weight of truth and the words of a character in one of his books are repeated endlessly as his own, supposedly treasonous, view. How can a modern country be gripped by such hysteria? Well — looking at some of the news coverage of US politicians over the past decade — only too easily, it appears, and it is still possible for accusations without a shred of hard evidence to be taken as truth by those who are receptive.
His secretary, Mrs. Violet Brown, a simple, straightforward woman who becomes deeply loyal to her employer, narrates much of the second part of the book. Her old fashioned American small town colloquialisms (“My stars,” “Fiddlesticks,” “Mr. Fletcher, how be ye?”) are perfectly rendered.
October brings a three-course fixed price special dinner to the Salmon House. For dessert, I had the Floating Island, a heavenly confection of lightly poached meringue on créme anglaise with little puddles of dulce de leche in it. It was so good, I could have licked the plate.
The move is powerful and, most of the time, unpredictable. Cotillard and her co-star, Matthias Schoenaerts, are an unlikely pair. He makes a precarious living: he does odd jobs to support his young son and does no-holds-barred street fighting to make more money; she is a killer whale trainer. You’re left off balance by the twists and turns of their relationship and the events of their lives. A brilliant, disturbing film.