For months the book sat in my “to read” pile. Then I pulled it out and placed it on the coffee table. It teased me as I savored the anticipation building to the moment I opened the cover and began reading the poetry of Barbara Kingsolver’s prose.
Flight Behavior, Kingsolver’s latest novel, did not disappoint me from the first word to the last, although there were some plot techniques that disconcerted me.
The environmental theme interwoven throughout the plot was executed with a unique choice of characters as the mouthpieces. Using the monarch butterfly as the harbinger of ecological disaster captivated me from the first when the main character, Dellarobia, encounters the unusual sight of thousands of monarchs clustered on tree limbs at the top of a mountain in Appalachia.
She believes she’s seeing the apparition as a warning against the adultery she’s about to commit, until her epiphany on the mountainside. Here’s the vision from Dellarobia’s viewpoint:
“Unearthly beauty had appeared to her, a vision of glory to stop her in the road. For her alone these orange boughs lifted, these long shadows became a brightness rising. It looked like the inside of joy, if a person could see that. A valley of lights, an ethereal wind. It had to mean something.”
Kingsolver received criticisms for her “preachy” tone on climate change. Readers who love her previous works, yet disagree with her politics in this novel, gave her harsh scores and reviews.
I’m reviewing this book on its merits. After all, Kingsolver is preaching to the choir with me. But be forewarned – this book is entertaining and educational, if you want it to be. If however you’re the type of person who doesn’t wish to read anything other than what repeats what you already believe, and if you believe the claims by scientists of climate change are bogus, don’t read this book. You’ll learn nothing and walk away muttering about the “tree hugger” author.
I loved the book for creating a fictional “what if” picture. What if the monarchs, so unsettled by climatic changes in their wintering spot in Mexico, decided to roost in the Appalachian Mountains?
Kingsolver creates a main character in Dellarobia who is a victim of her decisions in life and her circumstances. But never once did I feel sorry for this young mother burdened with the grief of the unmentioned dead baby that tied her down to the husband who is clearly not her match made anywhere. Dellarobia is going through her own “climate change” as she becomes an assistant to the scientists who have come to the mountain to study the anomaly. She becomes our interpreter of the complicated nature of shifting atmospheric patterns and the potential destruction of an entire species. The plot is woven around Dellarobia’s problems and that of the monarchs.
One of the foils for Dellarobia is her mother-in-law Hester who is very unsympathetic and seemingly mean in the first half of the book. As Hester’s story unfolds, Kingsolver is able to deftly turn Hester into a completely sympathetic human character, flaws and strengths both on display. In other words, she’s just like us.
I didn’t like the transition between chapters. Often, Kingsolver would bring the reader to the brink of a breakthrough in discovery of both the human drama and the plight of the monarch, and then the chapter would end. I would eagerly begin the next chapter only to find the plot had moved ahead a few days. I also felt the ending was very quickly tied up in a nice little bow. Some of it was symmetrical, but much of it seemed as if Kingsolver was told by her editors to shorten the book so she rushed the resolution.
Even with the few things I found disconcerting, I would still recommend this book if for nothing else than to enjoy the beauty of a skilled writer dancing her dance for our enjoyment. See for yourself:
“A movement of clouds altered the light, and all across the valley, the butterfly skin of the world transfigured in response, opening all the wings at once to the sun. A lifting brightness swept the landscape, flowing up the mountainside in a wave. Dellarobia opened her mouth and released a soft pant, anticipatory gusts of breath that could have become speech or laughter, or wailing. She couldn’t give it shape.”
Earth Day is April 22 – Celebrate by doing something kind for our planet. I’m out on a virtual book tour next week for Trails in the Sand, and I’ll be doing guest posts on the oil spill that occurred three years ago April 20. There are all sorts of anniversaries during this week in April. Some of them we hate to remember and yet others we must remember. May we somehow find peace within the chaos of these days.
Be sure to visit my tour stops next week to enter to win a great giveaway prize: An autographed copy of both Live from the Road and Trails in the Sand, a Route 66 baseball cap, magnets, and a “green” grocery bag from Betsy over at What’s Green With Betsy.