I'm currently reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. One of the things I find interesting about The Lacuna is its historical backdrop.
Mexico, Trotsky, and Kahlo
Going on behind the scenes, we see the artist Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky's sojourn in Mexico, accounts of the Communist witch-hunts , etc. These historical aspects are fascinating and lead me to want to find out more about the history.
However, Kingsolver also clearly has a political agenda mixed in with her storytelling. Her agenda leads me to wonder where the line is between the story and the message.
Where is the Line?
If I'm reading fiction, I want to read an engaging story--I don't want a message repeatedly pounded into my brain. At the same time, I enjoy being challenged and learning about new things.
To me, any elements such as historical context or political agenda should be in service of that story or of the characters in it.
Other Kingsolver Works
The immediate examples that come to mind are Kingsolver's The Bean Trees and Pigs and Heaven. The Bean Trees tells a terrific story that highlights what it means to be an adoptive mother, but Pigs in Heaven reads more like a treatise on the problem of Native American children being adopted away from their culture. The story in that case takes a backseat to the message.
What do you think? Do you prefer messages in your fiction? What tips the balance one way or another?
Meredith Burke Hammons works mostly behind the scenes at the Central branch, supervising the department that buys and processes library materials to get them out on the shelves. Her reading interests are varied; right now, she's focused on international fiction.