Barbara Kingsolver – Flight Behavior
61. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (2012)
Read By: Barbara Kingsolver herself!
Length: 16h 56m (448 pages)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Started: 23 July 2013
Finished: 06 August 2013
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors.
A single flap of
a butterfly’s wings can change
the world, or a life.
Summary: Dellarobia Turnbow feels trapped in her life – orphaned too early, married in high school to the boy who got her pregnant, and now stuck on her husband’s family farm raising two small kids, with no job, no higher education, and no hope of change – so when she heads into the woods behind their property for an illicit extramarital meeting, she’s not looking for much beyond something different, a temporary escape. But what she finds up there instead – a forest that looks like it’s on fire with the swarming of millions of migrating monarch butterflies – is not at all what she’d expected. Some folks in town proclaim it to be a miracle, while others seek to profit off the tourism it brings in. But then a scientist who studies the monarchs, Ovid Byron, arrives, and sets up shop on Turnbow land, and what he brings is not a story of beauty and miracles but of a world gone terribly wrong, and the butterflies that are paying the price. But for Dellarobia, they may represent a ray of hope after all, although not in a way she ever could have expected.
Review: I may be somewhat of an oddity among Barbara Kingsolver’s fans, in that while I like Poisonwood Bible quite a bit, my favorite book of hers (and one of my favorite books, full stop) has always been Prodigal Summer. I love the story, but I also love the interweaving of ecology and evolution into the fiction, and I particularly loved the sense of place. I’ve done fieldwork in the southern Appalachians, so I’m immediately familiar with the landscape she’s writing about – and to some extent, the people as well. So, on that front at least, I absolutely loved Flight Behavior. Slipping into this book felt a little like going home, as if Flight Behavior is the winter-time counterpart to Prodigal Summer, and I kept half-expecting characters from Egg Fork to show up in Feathertown.
I also really enjoyed how Kingsolver is able to fit so much biology into a fictional story. And this is fiction; the monarchs’ typical winter migration to Mexico has not (yet) been disrupted enough for them to show up in Tennessee. But it was eminently plausible that it might, and Kingsolver walks readers (alongside Dellarobia) through the very real ecological and climatological and genetic and evolutionary reasons why behind it. It did occasionally get a little bit infodump-ish, although for the most part, the information was presented in a way that was organic to the story at hand (a perk of having a scientist character in frequent conversation with other characters with varying degrees of ignorance and denial, I guess.) On the other hand, I didn’t think it ever dragged, and I didn’t feel as though it ever got lecture-y in the sense of badgering the reader about their habits, which is something to which I tend to be very sensitive. The scene between Dellarobia and the carbon-footprint guy was particularly skillfully done, and also hilarious. (I also realized that I have basically been the graduate student characters in this story, although they handled interacting with the local population with more grace and skill than I likely did.)
So: yay Appalachia! and yay science! And those two aspects take up really a large majority of the book, so on the whole, I was a happy camper. But where this book loses some points for me is in its tight focus on Dellarobia’s story. She’s an excellently-drawn character, tough and smart but stuck with few-to-no opportunities, and while I realize that her growth as a character was the primary non-biology focus of the novel, it just didn’t feel like quite enough. Maybe I’m (unfairly?) comparing it to Prodigal Summer, which manages to tell the story of not one but three characters with equally-involving character arcs… and to do so in less space. Maybe I wanted the secondary characters to be fleshed out somewhat more than they were. Maybe I wanted another perspective, or a subplot or two. (Maybe I just wanted to Dellarobia to have an honest conversation with her husband for once.) But spending the entire book inside her head felt a little confining, and made me wish Kingsolver had branched out a bit. But on the whole, I quite enjoyed this book, and while it may not become a favorite on the order of some of Kingsolver’s other books, but it’s a welcome return to form after the struggle that was The Lacuna. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Biologists and Barbara Kingsolver fans (and those who are both, like me!) will of course enjoy this book, as will those who like contemporary fiction with a strong sense of place and a healthy dose of science mixed in.
First Line: A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture.
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