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PRODIGAL SUMMER Paperback – Import, 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 831 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There is no one in contemporary literature quite like Barbara Kingsolver. Her dialogue sparkles with sassy wit and earthy poetry; her descriptions are rooted in daily life but are also on familiar terms with the eternal. With Prodigal Summer, she returns from the Congo to a "wrinkle on the map that lies between farms and wildness." And there, in an isolated pocket of southern Appalachia, she recounts not one but three intricate stories.

Exuberant, lush, riotous--the summer of the novel is "the season of extravagant procreation" in which bullfrogs carelessly lay their jellied masses of eggs in the grass, "apparently confident that their tadpoles would be able to swim through the lawn like little sperms," and in which a woman may learn to "tell time with her skin." It is also the summer in which a family of coyotes moves into the mountains above Zebulon Valley:

The ghost of a creature long extinct was coming in on silent footprints, returning to the place it had once held in the complex anatomy of this forest like a beating heart returned to its body. This is what she believed she would see, if she watched, at this magical juncture: a restoration.
The "she" is Deanna Wolfe, a wildlife biologist observing the coyotes from her isolated aerie--isolated, that is, until the arrival of a young hunter who makes her even more aware of the truth that humans are only an infinitesimal portion in the ecological balance. This truth forms the axis around which the other two narratives revolve: the story of a city girl, entomologist, and new widow and her efforts to find a place for herself; and the story of Garnett Walker and Nannie Rawley, who seem bent on thrashing out the countless intimate lessons of biology as only an irascible traditional farmer and a devotee of organic agriculture can. As Nannie lectures Garnett, "Everything alive is connected to every other by fine, invisible threads. Things you don't see can help you plenty, and things you try to control will often rear back and bite you, and that's the moral of the story."

Structurally, that gossamer web is the story: images, phrases, and events link the narratives, and these echoes are rarely obvious, always serendipitous. Kingsolver is one of those authors for whom the terrifying elegance of nature is both aesthetic wonder and source of a fierce and abiding moral vision. She may have inherited Thoreau's mantle, but she piles up riches of her own making, blending her extravagant narrative gift with benevolent concise humor. She treads the line between the sentimental and the glorious like nobody else in American literature. --Kelly Flynn --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

HA beguiling departure for Kingsolver, who generally tackles social themes with trenchantly serious messages, this sentimental but honest novel exhibits a talent for fiction lighter in mood and tone than The Poisonwood Bible and her previous works. There is also a new emphasis on the natural world, described in sensuous language and precise detail. But Kingsolver continues to take on timely issues, here focusing on the ecological damage caused by herbicides, ethical questions about raising tobacco, and the endangered condition of subsistence farming. A corner of southern Appalachia serves as the setting for the stories of three intertwined lives, and alternating chapters with recurring names signal which of the three protagonists is taking center stage. Each character suffers because his or her way of looking at the world seems incompatible with that of loved ones. In the chapters called "Predator," forest ranger Deanna Wolfe is a 40-plus wildlife biologist and staunch defender of coyotes, which have recently extended their range into Appalachia. Wyoming rancher Eddie Bondo also invades her territory, on a bounty hunt to kill the same nest of coyotes that Deanna is protecting. Their passionate but seemingly ill-fated affair takes place in summertime and mirrors "the eroticism of fecund woods" and "the season of extravagant procreation." Meanwhile, in the chapters called "Moth Love," newly married entomologist Lusa Maluf Landowski is left a widow on her husband's farm with five envious sisters-in-law, crushing debtsDand a desperate and brilliant idea. Crusty old farmer Garnett Walker ("Old Chestnuts") learns to respect his archenemy, who crusades for organic farming and opposes Garnett's use of pesticides. If Kingsolver is sometimes too blatant in creating diametrically opposed characters and paradoxical inconsistencies, readers will be seduced by her effortless prose, her subtle use of Appalachian patois. They'll also respond to the sympathy with which she reflects the difficult lives of people struggling on the hard edge of poverty while tied intimately to the natural world and engaged an elemental search for dignity and human connection. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; First Perennial Edition edition (2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571206433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571206438
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (831 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,720,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you ever wanted to get a greater appreciation of nature, predators and their prey, and survival of the fittest, then you'll probably really enjoy Kingsolver's latest book. I was totally in awe of her knowledge, most of which I'm sure did not come just through research. The jacket cover mentions that she earned a graduate degree in biology before becoming a full-time author. This is quite evident throughout and it becomes obvious to the reader that this is a labor of love on her part. Let's put it this way -- if ever I was a contestant on the millionaire show and a biology question came up, I'd want Barbara Kingsolver as my "phone a friend."
What is a prodigal summer? The author describes it as the "season of extravagant procreation" and, from that point, the story begins. This procreation will be experienced by all different forms of life found within these pages.
Kingsolver, who so beautifully told her Poisonwood Bible story through the eyes of the four daughters and their mother, uses this same writing style once again in Prodigal Summer. This time though, the chapters aren't headed with the characters' names but instead are indicated by their particular field of interest.
The Predators section describes Deanna Wolfe, working for the forest service and living by herself in an isolated cabin. She has also penned a thesis on coyotes and it's her dream to come across this predator in her small world in the Appalachian Mountains.
Moth Love is devoted to Lusa Landowski, a young, beautiful city girl who has studied entomology and is now a bug expert and lover. She also inherits a farm and has to decide whether to stay in Zebulon Valley and commit to that lifestyle or return to Lexington, Kentucky.
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Format: Hardcover
Prodigal Summer is a passionate adventure weaving together three stories about a corner of Appalachia called Zebulon Mountain. Wherever YOUR secret outdoor place was as a child--a backyard thicket, a neighbor's stream, or a nearby apple orchard--reading this book is like opening up someone else's magic world. I cared deeply about the characters, who are opinionated, alive, flawed, and compassionate. Kingsolver is an astute naturalist, with a strong moral sense of how man and beast should interact. She is such a lovely writer I found myself re-reading sentences just for the sheer joy of it. If you have ever listened to the cricket chorus on a summer eve, been in love, or held your breath when a butterfly landed on your sleeve, this book is for you.
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Format: Hardcover
If I were to write a review having read only the first section of PRODIGAL SUMMER, I would have panned it. In highly descriptive prose, Kingsolver starts out with a middle aged woman (and forest ranger) being tracked by a much younger and of course good-looking hunter, the result being a kind of Joyce Carol Oates meets THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. However, I'm happy to report the novel strengthens tremendously as it unfolds.
Kingsolver follows the lives of three characters during a particularly lush, hot summer in Appalachia, where American chestnuts and red wolves once flourished. Deanna, the forest ranger, is caught between her lover and protecting the den of coyotes he wants to locate and destroy. In the valley below, the recently widowed Lusa struggles with the ill will of her in-laws as she searches for ways to keep the family land her husband left her. And in another section of farmland, elderly Garnett feuds with Nannie over Nannie's organic farming methods, which Garnett disdains and sees as a threat to his own reputation and methods. Lusa's story is the most compelling, perhaps because Kingsolver reserves most of her opinions about the care of the environment for the other two tales, instead focusing on more personal matters. Still, the other two are told well, with strong, flowing prose. Kingsolver connects these three points-of-view mostly by the land they inhabit, but also by past histories. Although the main characters live out their dramas in isolation from the others, their lives touch upon one another in subtle ways and understandings.
This novel is heavily thematic, even occasionally dogmatic, so if this kind of writing leaves you cold, don't waste your money. However, if you're the type who likes a fictional journey coupled with political issues, this may be exactly what you're looking for. People interested in environmental issues as well as those interested in Kingsolver's progress as a novelist should read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
If the Kingsolver you love is the one who wrote The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven, and Animal Dreams, and you found The Poisonwood Bible written in a different voice and style, be warned that Prodigal Summer is closer in tone and structure to The Poisonwood Bible.
But Prodigal Summer has its own power and magic. The basic storyline is the focus on nature as a major life force. But it is told from the viewpoint of three different character groups who come to understand that no one stands alone, no action is without consequence, every decision leads to results, wanted or unwanted.
The young widow must make decisions about her future and her dead husband's land while struggling with his complex family. The Forest Service employee must deal with her chosen solitude and the hunter whom she invites to interrupt it. The two farmers must come to grips with how to manage their adjoining land, organically or chemically. These elements would stand well on their own, but Kingsolver doesn't let the story lines run separate. All these people's lives cross. Their opinions differ, their ways of dealing with life and conflict differ. But they have to come up with a way of getting along. Just like real life.
The telling of this one story in different voices is a method Kingsolver does well. The story is intersting, touching, gripping and, happily for the reader, not neatly tied up at the end. Like nature, things are left unsolved, to continue along with choices made thoughtfully and thoughtlessly, but all with strong convictions. It's a good read with a careful presentation of some controversial topics.
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