Flight Behavior

By Barbara Kingsolver

(Harper, $28.99, 448 pages)

Who is this author?

Barbara Kingsolver has written many novels, among them one of my all-time favorites, “The Poisonwood Bible,” a vividly, wrenchingly told story of a fundamentalist family transplanted to Africa. Born in Maryland, raised in Kentucky, educated in Indiana and Arizona, she has always been interested in science and how it affects our lives. She is a writer of bestselling novels, such as “Pigs in Heaven, “The Poisonwood Bible” and “Prodigal Summer” as well as  poetry collections (“Another America”), short story collections (“Homeland”), and essay collections (“Small Wonders”) and nonfiction, such as “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” And you may be interested to learn that Kingsolver, who won a piano scholarship to DePauw University, has also played with the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock and roll band whose members have included such writers as Amy Tan, Matt Groening, Dave Barry, and Stephen King.

What is this book about?

A young wife in Tennessee, forced away from college and into an early and unsatisfying marriage by a pregnancy in her teens, one day makes a startling, life-changing discovery in her small Appalachian town: millions of Monarch butterflies like a glowing orange lake fill a hollow in the mountains near her home, on land her in-laws hope to sell to a logging company. Her evangelical friends and family call it a miracle, but Dellarobia Turnbow (a wonderful name!) soon learns this gorgeous visitation signals an ugly truth: climate change is forcing the butterflies out of their normal Mexican home to Tennessee, where winter weather will doom them. When an intriguing scientist arrives in Feathertown to study the insects, Dellarobia finds work with his team, and soon the uclimate is not the only thing that is changing in her circumscribed life.

Why you’ll like it:

Kinsolving’s books carry messages, often about environmental issues, but do so in a palatable and fascinating way. She’s not preaching here, but she’s very clear about the imminent ecological changes we now face. Kingsolver also has potent descriptive powers – you can easily picture and won’t soon forget that glowing lake of butterflies – and she is equally good at drawing character portraits. The people she invents may exist to help this author make important points about current scientific issues, but they are not cardboard cutouts – they ring true, and they make you care about their lives (and perhaps draw parallels to your own.)

What others are saying:

Library Journal says: “Dellarobia Turnbow is in a perpetual state of fight or flight. Married at 17 to kind, dull Cub, she finds even the satisfaction of motherhood small consolation for the stultifying existence on her in-laws’ struggling Tennessee sheep farm. When a fluke of nature upends the monotony of her life, Dellarobia morphs into the church’s poster child for a miracle, an Internet phenomenon, and a woman on the verge of unexpected opportunity as scientists, reporters, and ecotourists converge on the Turnbow property. …Kingsolver …performs literary magic, generously illuminating both sides of the culture wars, from the global-warming debate to public education in America. It’s a joy to watch Dellarobia and her precocious son, Preston, blossom under the tutelage of entomologist Ovid Byron. VERDICT …Kingsolver draws upon her prodigious knowledge of the natural world to enlighten readers about the intricacies of the migration patterns of monarch butterflies while linking their behavior to the even more fascinating conduct of the human species. Highly recommended.”

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2012, says: “Readers who bristle at politics made personal may be turned off by the strength of Kingsolver’s convictions, but she never reduces her characters to mouthpieces, giving equal weight to climate science and human need, to forces both biological and biblical. Her concept of family encompasses all living beings, however ephemeral, and “Flight Behavior” gracefully, urgently contributes to the dialogue of survival on this swiftly tilting planet.”

“Kingsolver has written one of the more thoughtful novels about the scientific, financial and psychological intricacies of climate change. And her ability to put these silent, breathtakingly beautiful butterflies at the center of this calamitous and noisy debate is nothing short of brilliant. “Flight Behavior” isn’t trying to reform recalcitrant consumers or make good liberals feel even more pious about carpooling—so often the purview of environmental fiction—it’s just trying to illuminate the mysterious interplay of the natural world and our own conflicted hearts,”  says Ron Charles The Washington Post.

Says Publishers Weekly: “Spunky Dellarobia is immensely appealing; the caustic view she holds of her husband, in-laws, and neighbors, the self-deprecating repartee she has with her best friend Dovey, and her views about the tedium of motherhood combined with a loving but clear-eyed appraisal of her own children invest the narrative with authenticity and sparkling humor. Kingsolver also animates and never judges the uneducated, superstitious, religiously devout residents of Feathertown. As Dellarobia flees into a belated coming-of-age, which becomes the ironic outcome of the Monarchs’ flight path to possible catastrophe in the collapse of a continental ecosystem, the dramatic saga becomes a clarion call about climate change, too lucid and vivid for even skeptics to ignore.”

When is it available?

“Flight Behavior” is in the new books stacks at the Ropkins and Goodwin branches of the Hartford Public Library and can be requested for pickup at other branches.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Comments are closed.