Danny Bloom
I seek the truth wherever it lies.

Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel has an intrigiuing back story based on real-life Mary Treat of Vineland, New Jersey and her correspondence with Charles Darwin

The American novelist Barbara Kingsolver is impatient to release her new novel, titled “Unsheltered,” and it’s due to come out in October, according to publishing sources in New York and London. The story follows two protagonists who live in the same crumbling house in New Jersey during two troubled periods of American history – 2016 and 1871, Australian features reporter Melanie Kembrey recently reported in a long-distance telephone interview with the US novelist.

”When Kingsolver began writing the novel more than two years ago, an editor remarked, after seeing some early chapters, that she did not think the world was so dark. Now, Kingsolver says, the novel seems alarmingly relevant,” Kembrey reported for the Sydney Morning Herald.

When Kingsolver began writing the novel more than two years ago, one of her editors remarked, after seeing some early chapters, that she [the editor] did not think the world was so dark. Now, Kingsolver says, the novel seems alarmingly relevant.

“It’s funny that I have this crazy habit of publishing right at the moment before a new movement kind of crashes, or breaks open,” Kingsolver said over the phone.

“I think of myself as a surfer. I’m not making the wave, I’m just riding it,” the celebrated novelist said.

2016 Vineland, New Jersey

Meet Willa Knox, a woman who stands braced against the vicissitudes of her shattered life and family – and the crumbling house that contains her. Her character is based on the real-life American correspondent of Charles Darwin, Mary Treat (see below).

1871 Vineland, New Jersey

Thatcher Greenwood, the new science teacher, is a fervent advocate of the work of Charles Darwin, and he is keen to communicate his ideas to his students. But those in power in Thatcher’s small town have no desire for a new world order. Thatcher and his teachings are not welcome.

Both Willa and Thatcher resist the prevailing logic. Both are asked to pay a high price for their courage.

A testament to the power and goodness of the human spirit, Unsheltered explores the foundations we build, crossing time and place to give us all a little more hope in those around us, and a little more faith in ourselves.

And how did the story come be? According a news report from a Vineland newspaper three years ago:

Author Barbara Kingsolver, who blends fact and fiction in her novels, has selected Vineland’s Mary Treat as a central character for her next book. Kingsolver and her husband, Steven Hopp, recently spent two days at the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society reviewing Treat’s personal papers and research notes to gain a better understanding of the naturalist’s life.

Treat, who was a longtime member of the society, left all of her writings to the nonprofit after her death in 1923.

“We are very excited at the prospect of MaryTreat becoming a character in Kingsolver’s next book,” said Patricia A. Martinelli, society curator. “We hope to host a book-signing at the museum after the novel is published.”

Mary Treat moved to Vineland in 1868 with her husband, Dr. Joseph Treat, and began a lifetime of research that she shared with noted scientists of the era. Among them was Charles Darwin, whose controversial theories on evolution shook the world. For a time, Treat and Darwin exchanged letters, discussing different theories about plant and animal life. She also corresponded regularly with other scientists, including Dr. Asa Gray of Harvard University and Charles Riley, the state entomologist for Missouri.

Unfortunately, Treat’s personal life fell apart shortly after she moved to town. Dr. Treat, a staunch spiritualist, left her and moved to New York City, where he became involved with Victoria Woodhull, a leader of the women’s suffrage movement.

Treat supported herself by writing and lecturing on plants and insects, and her work was well received by the community and scientific magazines of the time. She eventually purchased her own home on Park Avenue.

So now you know…the back story!

About the Author
Dan Bloom curates The Cli-Fi Report at He graduated from Tufts University in Boston in 1971 with a major in Modern Literature. A newspaper editor and reporter since his days in Washington, D.C., Juneau, Alaska, Tokyo, Japan and Taipei, Taiwan, he has lived and worked 5 countries and speaks rudimentary French, Japanese and Chinese. He hopes to live for a few more years.