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Flight Behavior: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 6, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2012: In what may be the first novel to realistically imagine the near-term impact of “global weirding,” Barbara Kingsolver sets her latest story in rural Appalachia . In fictional Feathertown, Tennessee, Dellarobia Turnbow--on the run from her stifling life--charges up the mountain above her husband’s family farm and stumbles onto a “valley of fire” filled with millions of monarch butterflies. This vision is deemed miraculous by the town’s parishioners, then the international media. But when Ovid, a scientist who studies monarch behavior, sets up a lab on the Turnbow farm, he learns that the butterflies’ presence signals systemic disorder--and Dellarobia's in-laws’ logging plans won’t help. 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. --Mari Malcolm
“Drawing on both her Appalachian roots and her background in biology, Kingsolver delivers a passionate novel on the effects of global warming.” (Booklist, Starred Review)
“With her powerful new novel, Kingsolver delivers literary fiction that conveys an urgent social message… a clarion call about climate change, too lucid and vivid for even skeptics to ignore.” (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)
“…Enthralling…Dellarobia is appealingly complex as a smart, curious, warmhearted woman desperate to-no resisting the metaphor here-trade her cocoon for wings.” (Oprah.com)
“A dazzling page-turner” (Elle)
“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.” (Ron Charles, Washington Post)
“Dellarobia is a smart, fierce, messy woman, and one can’t help rooting for her to find her wings.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Dellarobia is appealingly complex as a smart, curious, warmhearted woman desperate to-no resisting the metaphor here-trade her cocoon for wings.” (O, the Oprah Magazine)
“One of the gifts of a Kingsolver novel is the resplendence of her prose. She takes palpable pleasure in the craft of writing, creating images that stay with the reader long after her story is done…(a) majestic and brave new novel.” (New York Times Book Review)
“Kingsolver has constructed a deeply affecting microcosm of a phenomenon that is manifesting in many different tragic ways, in communities and ecosystems all around the globe. This is a fine and complex novel.” (Seattle Times)
“So captivating is this grand, suspenseful plot and the many subplots rising and falling beneath it that it takes some time before we realize what this story is really about -- climate change.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
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In this story, the survival techniques of the Monarch butterfly, those bright orange, delicate but hardy creatures, and that of a diminutive, flame-haired young woman are inextricably intertwined and analogous. The Monarchs have had an atypical flight behavior this year. Floods and landslides led to felled trees everywhere in their usual roosting place in Mexico. Subsequently, they migrated to Feathertown to overwinter. Why Feathertown? That's the big question that one team of scientists comes to examine. However, they are challenged by the residents, who are skeptical of science-based answers to climate-based questions. In the meantime, residents of Feathertown need to fill their coffers.
Dellarobia Turnbow, 27, has her own kind of flight behaviors, spurred on by too much domestic confinement too soon, and now she is primed to flee, restive--flying from pillar to post, as her mother always said. Unlike the rest of the townspeople, she wasn't as inspired by religion.
"She was a...911 Christian: in the event of an emergency, call the Lord...Jesus was a more reliable backer, less likely to drink himself unconscious or get liver cancer. No wonder people chose Him as their number one friend. But if the chemistry wasn't there, what could you do?"
Married in a shotgun wedding ten years ago, she lost a preemie before having two more children. Her husband, Cub, is a large, docile and complacent man, controlled and essentially managed by his mirthless parents. Dellarobia knows that to live in this town is to be under a microscope; she was the untamed child once, and that wildness is rearing its head again, her dormancy coming to an end.
The first chapter, "The Measure of a Man," is the catalyst for both Dellarobia's evolution and the arc of the story. (If you want to experience it fresh and unspoiled, avoid reading the jacket blurb.) Kingsolver's time-honored talent for yoking the struggle and turmoil of man with the flux and beauty of nature is vividly drawn. She builds the final, dramatic scene of the chapter to a man/nature composition that is at once distilled and dynamic, serene and dramatic. Abundant, also, are Biblical allusions that reflect the community's ethos.
Kingsolver is an agent of social change. She established the Bellwether prize in literature in order to award writers who effect change for the good of humanity. She is also a scholar with postgrad degrees in biology and environmental science. You are going to encounter a stout measure of activism in her writing, covering such issues as the degradation of the planet and its natural resources and the contentious class system of society. If her political evocations have bothered you in the past, they are likely to bother you here, too.
Nevertheless, the author weaves in her social issues with finesse, for the most part, and her vivid portrait of Feathertown is sympathetic and informed. Initially, she seems to lampoon the pious, science-fearing populace, but she gradually tenders the reader to an understanding of the religious community. She slowly develops dialogue between urban, rural, and academic minds and concerns. The biblical allusions are also ripe and fitting, relevant to the inhabitants of Feathertown and the way they see the "miracle" of nature. Dellarobia represents a connection between both worlds.
This is the second book I have read that highlights the migratory patterns and survival modes of the Monarch butterfly, and braids in the journey of self-actualization and coming to terms with loss. SANCTUARY LINE, by Jane Urquhart, is also socially and environmentally conscious, and is an apt companion piece to this book.
The clash of family, science, religion, media, politics, and environment takes Dellarobia on a quest beyond the emotional and intellectual borders she has known all her life, on a journey of discovery and transformation. Like a butterfly out of the chrysalis, she must follow the path of her future.
There is a lot about Monarch butterflies, much I'd never even considered. That was interesting. The author does get a bit "preachy" about the environment and global warming, some of which was germane to the story, but probably more was in the book than necessary to make the point. There are side threads about Dovey and Hester, and a little gotcha there in the story. I think you will enjoy the book.
Kingsolver has a great respect for scientists and their dedication to the pursuit of knowledge as well as a deep spirituality. This is a lovely combination and shows the depth in her view or perspective of the world.
The story takes place in Feathertown, Tennessee. Sheep farmers are struggling to make a living. A bored housewife, Dellarobia Turnbow, who got married because she got pregnant in high school, is dissatisfied with her life and contemplates having numerous affairs; she finds her husband unattractive and irritating but stays with him because of their children. Dellarobia climbs a mountain near her home to rendezvous with a much younger man, but stops in awe when she sees the beauty of orange light flickering on the trees below. Dellarobia thinks she has had a spiritual vision and is to go back home and be a faithful wife and mother. She later learns what she has seen are thousands of monarch butterflies ("king billies", as the locals call them) on the trees. The butterflies normally winter in Mexico but are in her backyard due to global warming. She learns this from a scientist, Ovid, and his group of students, who set up camp in her yard to study the butterflies. She learns that the butterfly phenomenon is a sign of what could be a serious environmental problem. The butterflies are in danger of extinction.
Many of the townspeople think the appearance of the butterflies is a miracle, and that their town has been singled out by God for a special blessing. Some want to attract tourists to the town and make money. Her father-in-law, Bear, dismisses the butterflies and wants to contract with a lumber company to cut down all the trees on the mountain.
The story of the plight of the butterflies is set against the disintegrating marriage of Dellorobia and her husband, Cub. Alas, I wish Kingsolver could have written a brilliant nonfiction book. The caliber of the story of the characters' lives is just not up to Kingsolver's descriptions of Nature and her illustration of problems with global warming. I could not relate to any of the characters. Frankly, they were a bit boring and tedious. The result is a rather unwieldy book at times.
I gave this book 4 stars, because Kingsolver's descriptive writing is so brilliant, although the story of the characters lacks vitality and is more in the 2 to 3 star category.