This is the only book I have read by Barbara Kingsolver, so I can't compare it with her other work. I can see why she has a high reputation from her command of English, but I think 'The Lacuna' requires more patience than some readers will be prepared to give it. It is one of those 'journey through life' novels which, in general, I find too flaccid, and this at first gave me that impression. From roughly a quarter of the way through, however, the story's focus begins to tighten and its momentum continues through to the end.
One quarter is a long way, however, for a book of more than five hundred pages. I disagree with the reviewer who, in his comment thread, remarks that those who can't finish the book should not post their one-star reviews. Keeping the reader interested is of primary importance. Kingsolver does set up conflict on the first page: a woman leaves her American husband in the hope of a better life with another man, taking her young son with her, and finds herself trapped in a Mexican backwater. After this, however, the story meanders through some largely anecdotal exposition. Littered with moments of wisdom and humour, it sets out the background to the childhood of the son, Harrison Shepherd, who is the central character. Though I stayed with it, at times it was like reading a travelogue by a celebrity chef, although in fairness, no celebrity chef is likely to have this author's way with words.
Shepherd's relationship with Rivera is where the novel becomes interesting and the introduction of Trotsky cements it. Shepherd is presented as a rootless man struggling to establish a home and identity; he is part American, part Mexican, friend to revolutionaries, yet passive in his politics, even those of a sexual nature. In almost everything, he is neither one thing nor the other. Just when it appears he has settled and fulfilled his aims, events beyond his control cause more upheaval.
After the Trotsky episode, the novel is played against the background of the so-called 'McCarthy Witch Hunts' which move into the foreground with their attendant paranoia. Kingsolver's portrayal of how authority corrupts and manipulates public opinion is brilliant.
'The Lacuna' ultimately rewards patience several times over. Were it not for its sluggish start, it would be a classic.