FLIGHT BEHAVIOR by Barbara Kingsolver

Book Quote:

“On shearing day the weather turned cool and fine. On the strength of that and nothing more, just a few degrees of temperature, the gray clouds scurried away to parts unknown like a fleet of barn cats. The chore of turning ninety ewes and their uncountable half-grown lambs through the shearing stall became a day’s good work instead of the misery expected by all. As far as Dellarobia could remember, no autumn shearing had been so pleasant.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (DEC 14, 2013)

Barbara Kingsolver is one of those rare writers with whom you know what you are getting before you open the first page.

You know, for example, that the prose is going to be literary, dense, and luscious (take this descriptive line: Summer’s heat had never really arrived, nor the cold in turn, and everything living now seemed to yearn for sun with the anguish of the unloved.”) You know that the content will focus on some kind of social justice, biodiversity, or environmental issue. You know, too, that at some point, Ms. Kingsolver will cross the line into authorial intrusion based on her passion for the subject she is writing on.

But you keep coming back for more. At least, I do. There is something mesmerizing about a Barbara Kingsolver novel, and something refreshing about a writer who combines a solid scientific background with stunning prose.

This book is entitled Flight Behavior, and for good reason. It opens with a young Appalachian woman – Dellarobia Turnbow – ready to take flight from her shotgun marriage and closed-in life with two young children. On her way up the mountain to engage in an affair, she views an astounding natural phenomenon that changes everything for her.

The core of the novel focuses on that phenomenon, centering on the migratory patterns of the bright orange Monarch butterfly, usually viewed only in Mexico. The topic is climate change and Ms. Kingsolver slashes through the obtuse definitions with language anyone can understand. Dellarobia is paired thematically with a Harvard-educated scientist Ovid Byron, whose lifework is studying the butterflies. He says, “If you woke up one morning, Dellarobia, and one of your eyes had moved to the side of your head, how would you feel about that?” That, in effect, is the same as the butterflies migrating to Appalachia.

There is much to love about this novel. Dellarobia is authentically portrayed: a woman who is confined in a life she has outgrown, complete with two very genuinely created toddlers and a best friend who is not similarly constrained. The duality of science and religion is also tackled. While Barbara Kingsolver makes no secret of how she feels about those who piously say, “Weather is the Lord’s business” while polluting our environment, she also concedes to the majesty and mystery of nature, culling in parallels from Job and Noah.

Ultimately, Ms. Kingsolver leaves us with the most important question of all: “what was the use of saving a world that had no soul left in it. Continents without butterflies, seas without coral reef…What if all human effort amounted basically to saving a place for ourselves to park?” The interconnectedness of all nature’s creatures – and our true place in our own lives and in the lives of the universe – is a message that lives on in this reader’s mind long after the last page is closed.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 1,546 readers
PUBLISHER: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (June 4, 2013)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Barbara Kingsolver
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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December 14, 2013 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Literary, Reading Guide, Theme driven, US South

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