Top critical review
on March 8, 2013
Barbara Kingsolver is undeniably an excellent and committed writer. By that I mean her prose is lovely and she has something to say - this is not fluffy drivel. Though I can't claim to be expert at the subject matter, I do believe she puts some time into research, due to her books' varied cultural and historical settings.
Nonetheless, Ms. Kingsolver is a writer of fiction, and not, to my knowledge, a scientist, anthropologist, biologist, or other subject matter expert. She appears to be hopping on the environmental bandwagon with a bit of a vengeance - I understand her newest novel, "Flight Behavior," has a strong climate change theme. While a certain perspective, criticism, or opinion is warranted in a novel (perhaps even necessary), there is a fine line which should not be crossed. Or, if proving a point is the author's main objective, perhaps a different genre would be more appropriate?
While reading "Prodigal Summer" there were times when I had that "burning in your ears" sensation that Kingsolver was preaching to her readers. The prose and visual narrative were strong enough that I was able to ignore these parts and not become offended. Eventually I ended up ignoring what seemed to be whole chapters, or at least pages, which were filled with nothing but tiresome, predictable conversations between the novel's characters that allowed Kingsolver to spout her environmental agenda. Some of these conversations were so redundant and simple, I felt like she was talking down to the reader.
With the exception of the chapters devoted to the two old neighbors - some of those interactions had me laughing out loud. These chapters seemed the most well-crafted. While the environmental/farmer/pesticide/natural debate was still a factor, it was presented in a way that seemed to naturally fit the thoughts and actions of the characters. The two elderly characters were fully developed, and the theme supported their interactions, rather than the other way around.
But overall, the environmental facts were clumsily presented and weakened the storyline. The characters and their situations, as profound, rich, and colorful as they could have been, seemed of secondary importance, merely acting as a platform from which to prove a point. I believe Kingsolver has the ability to subtley convey that message without alienating her readers with lengthy diatribes and staged debates. This could have been a beautiful, poetic novel, a love letter to Mother Nature and her Divine Wisdom. I'm very disappointed that it wasn't.