I have a confession: I’ve never liked, or rather, appreciated Barbara Kingsolver. Wow, my conscience feels better. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always known she was a beautiful writer, but her topics have always rubbed me as too preachy. Another confession: I’ve only ever attempted to read The Poisonwood Bible and that was in 2001. So I took on the reading of Flight Behavior as a challenge to myself and my preconceived notions.
In her newest novel, Kingsolver delves further into the problems and controversies surrounding global warming. Dellarobia Turnbow is in her late twenties with two kids, a husband, and life that is stifling her. One day, home fry decides that climbing the mountain behind her house to have an affair will lead to her ultimate escape – until she comes across a fiery vision in the woods and has a sort of biblical epiphany of Moses proportions. Turns out, those fiery visions are actually displaced migratory Monarch butterflies whose existence is on the brink of disaster – much like Dellarobia herself. Can Dellarobia save the Monarchs and can they, in turn, save her?
There’s really a lot of global warming discussion that takes place in the sometimes contrived dialogue between Dellarobia and the scientists who come to study the Monarchs. At times, I enjoyed the debates, feeling like I was actually learning All. The. Things. But then I’d turn a page and roll my eyes. And this is coming from someone who is concerned about the environment and does believe in global warming. I just wish the dialog came off as more sincere or flowed more naturally instead of feeling purposefully placed to accomplish the job of converting the non-believers.
That being said, the prose is gorgeous. Kingsolver can turn a phrase like nobody’s business. There were times a metaphor or simile would stop me in my tracks and I’d spend 5 minutes just pondering the comparison and basking in the glow of amazingness. Hands down, Flight Behavior is worth the time it takes to get through its 400+ pages based on this fact alone. I’m even inclined to give her older novels a second chance if this is how accomplished the woman is with the English language.
I was also really fascinated by Dellarobia, not just as a character, but as a human being. She frustrated me to no end sometimes, but other times would say something so astute that I forgave her former faults. The novel takes place in the Appalachians of Tennessee in a small southern town where money is severely lacking. Dellarobia gave up her dreams – slight though they were – of college after she got pregnant and married at 17. A story all too often told in this neck of the woods, but her absolute belief that college was beyond her, that she had no way out, and that anyone who did go to college was a jackass bothered me more than I’d like to admit. The town’s high school didn’t even teach actual curriculum – they had two maths called – Math One and Math Two. Do places like this actually exist? Seriously – I grew up in a small southern town with lots of poverty, a broke-ass high school, and a very small percentage of my fellow grads went on to college, but we had all of the normal classes. Maybe I’m just not aware, but this part seemed a bit over-dramatized to me. Someone care to educate me?
In her defense, Dellarobia wasn’t your typical backwoods hick. She wasn’t educated beyond high school, but still had a thirst for knowledge, an appreciation for grammar, and a fierce loyalty to the kinds of people we often make fun of on reality shows. Flipping through the challenges with her husband, they stop briefly on a program obviously making fun of and mocking an old southern man upset over something to do with his coon dogs. She grows angry when she realizes this is how the world sees her family, her neighbors, and all the people she loves most in the world. I almost felt ashamed of myself for making fun of Honey Boo Boo. Almost.
If you’re a fan of Kingsolver, you know what to expect and have already made up your mind to read Flight Behavior. If you don’t like her or have never given her a shot, I’d suggest Flight Behavior as a great place to start. The story felt well-paced despite dwelling often on the minutiae of the Turnbow’s life and I was able to overcome the negative bits on the back of Kingsolver’s illustrious prose. I fell in love with those butterflies, let me tell you. It’s a book fit for literature classes and one I’m likely to read again. It’s also a book that would garner some seriously awesome discussion – so read it with friends, a book club, or just come chat me up here!!
Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for my review copy in exchange for an honest review! Please visit TLC’s website to visit other tour stops!
Barbara Kingsolver is the author of eight works of fiction, including the novels The Lacuna, The Poisonwood Bible, Animal Dreams, and The Bean Trees, as well as books of poetry, essays, and creative nonfiction. Her most recent work of nonfiction is the enormously influential bestsellerAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Kingsolver’s work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has earned literary awards and a devoted readership at home and abroad. In 2000, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal, our country’s highest honor for service through the arts. She lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia.