One woman: Dellarobia.
One family: The Turnbows
One small town: Feathertown, TN
Fifteen million butterflies.
And so Barbara Kingsolver sets out to tell a story that both entertains and informs.
A scientist by her education and training and a writer by profession, Kingsolver takes on hard tasks in her writing. She always seems to be pushing to create something new.
In Flight Behavior, her latest novel (she’s published 14 books, nine of them novels), she tells the story of Dellarobia Turnbow, wife, mother, daughter-in-law, friend, and lost soul, until something startling happens that gradually results in her emergence from her frustrating life.
As the novel begins, Dellarobia is on her way to doing something that will likely impact her life forever, negatively. She is stopped in her tracks by a wondrous sight that changes not only what she is about to do but also will have profound effects for her family and their way of life.
Enter the butterflies, an entomologist, and a series of events that gradually involve her family and her struggling southern Appalachian town.
The story that follows is largely about Dellarobia and her effort to emerge from a life that is headed nowhere towards something quite different. In telling the story, Kingsolver also creates several other characters you will not forget, particularly her mother-in-law Hester, her husband Cub, and a scientist named Ovid.
At the same time, Flight Behavior is Kingsolver’s attempt at tackling the issue of climate change, not as a polemic or a lecture or an abstract threat but as something quite different. Instead, Kingsolver uses her story to try to explain an environmental crisis and how it affects a family that does not understand it. There are no real villains in this novel (except perhaps a TV reporter, some environmentalists), just a family that is trying to survive.
Flight Behavior is not about recycling bottles or conservationists preaching about global warming. It’s a well crafted book by one of our best living writers (in my humble opinion) that seeks to raise questions about choices and the consequences of those choices her characters make in their personal lives.
One of Kingsolver’s great strengths is her ability to engage the reader with her descriptions of individuals, of their surroundings, of their circumstances, and of their dilemmas. There are characters, scenes and description of life in this small Appalachian town in Flight Behavior that are likely to stay with you long after you have finished the novel.
The novel is engaging and worthy, both as a literary work with simple and complex characters and narratives and as an attempt to explain an environmental crisis without preaching or polemics.
I will be interested in how others find the book. For me, it will make it to my list of “Best Reads of 2012.”
In fact, I think it would make for a good evening discussion, along with some of Ellen’s good cooking.
If you read it, let me and others know what your thoughts about the novel are, and let me know if you want to be included in a one-time dinner/discussion, probably in February.
* * * * * *
Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers was just given the National Book Award for non-fiction. You can link to a post about her I wrote in February on MillersTime and also to my short review of this book. If you haven’t read it, you have something good in store for you. She is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and was recently interviewed about her writing by Guernica, a magazine of art and politics.
ruth cushing said:
love the idea of a long-distance bookclub! As you have already read the book it would be useful to have the questions/themes that occurred to you before I start reading so that they are in my mind as I read the book. My own bookclub travels once a year to a place where a particular book is set, and this has proved very successful. To date we have travelled to Sweden, Cork, Lisbon, Budapest, the Yorkshire Dales, Lyme Regis and Poland.