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Prodigal Summer: A Novel Paperback – October 16, 2001
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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 out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
The novel unfolds through alternating chapters about three characters living on the land in rural Appalachia. Deanna is a park ranger with a passion for nature living alone on a mountain until a hunter who might as well be called Fantasy Man shows up. Lusa is a young woman adjusting to widowhood and her in-laws while struggling to find an earth-friendly way to make her farm solvent. Garnett Walker is an “old fart” with little patience for the independence and organic methods of his neighbor even while he struggles to revive the American chestnut trees on his own property. Each chapter deftly advances these three stories and ends in cliffhangers that made me want to read on. Ultimately, the author reveals how all the characters are connected.
Throughout, Kingsolver offers lush descriptions of the beauty and fecundity of nature in summertime while her characters deal with the human desires unleashed by the season. Her prose is superb. After a hard rain, the dripping leaves of the forest echo with a “sibilant percussion.” A blacksnake "oozed" down the wall of a log cabin “in an undulating flow like a line of molasses spilling over the edge of a pitcher.” The plotting and pace are excellent and I laughed out loud quite a few times at funny observations or situations. My only problem is that too many characters descend into long-winded lectures on the necessity for humans to adopt more earth-friendly environmental practices. A lighter touch would have conveyed that important message more effectively and made this a sleeker, superior 5 star book.
In this book, she tells the story of Deanna, a National Park Service employee who lives alone in the woods and likes it. Her life is disturbed by the appearance of a young man, much younger that she is, who turns her tidy little world upside down.
Lusa. a girl from the big city of Lexington, is forced to find her own way when her husband Cole is killed suddenly in an auto accident.
Garnett, an elderly man, is fretted to death by his equally elderly neighbor, Nannie.
As we learn more of these three, we learn how their lives intertwine. They are all three part of one story, and the revelations of their interconnection is masterly.