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Customer Review

604 of 659 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't Move Me Like My Prior Kingsolver Reads, November 6, 2012
This review is from: Flight Behavior: A Novel (Hardcover)
I love Barbara Kingsolver. All of her books automatically go on my to-read list, because she's brilliant. One of the things I love about her is how unique her books are from one another. She writes different kind of characters in disparate environments and focuses on varying themes. I find it so impressive when authors can reinvent themselves so often. Flight Behavior is my fourth Kingsolver book. Unfortunately, unlike the others, this one failed to meet my expectations.

My first Kingsolver read was The Bean Trees, which centers around a girl desperate to get out of her small, hick town where most of the girls are pregnant before they even leave high school. She wants to be one of the ones to leave and never come back. Through some odd circumstances, she finds herself stuck raising a baby that's not hers, sort of falling into motherhood. The plot itself didn't have much appeal for me as a reader, but the book was utterly compelling and I loved it so much. Kingsolver's powerful writing and intriguing, quirky characters pulled me in despite myself.

In Flight Behavior, Kingsolver again focuses on a heroine who had dreams of escaping her hick town, but this one didn't make it. Dellarobia hoped to go to college, but wound up pregnant instead. Even worse, the baby boy died, leaving her stuck in a marriage with a man she doesn't respect and reliant on judgmental in-laws. Her unhappiness manifests itself in a wandering eye; she has had a number of crushes on men, flirted with the idea of an affair. The hook of the novel is when Dellarobia heads up the mountain to meet with one of her men and cheat on her husband. On her way, she sees the forest burning with butterflies, and interprets that as a sign from God that she needs to go back to her life and make good.

Dellarobia's life certainly is unfortunate, and it's such a shame that her promise was wasted on this small town, where kids only take two years of rudimentary math in school. Even the bright ones aren't given enough education to be able to get out of town. I feel for her, but I didn't connect with her or any of the other characters. In all of Kingsolver's previous works, I was held rapt in unfamiliar worlds by the power of the characters and the writing, but these characters simply failed to grab onto my heart and take hold.

Another problem too is that, while the writing is beautiful as always (and shows that you can not write in dialect but still achieve a southern feel), the story feels a bit like a combination of two of the Kingsolver books I'd previously read: The Bean Trees and Prodigal Summer. Revisiting old themes, while not what I know Kingsolver for, can be done well, but, in this case, it felt repetitive and less well done.

Flight Behavior feels like it was written not so much for the characters as to be the vehicle for a message: global warming is real and it's not just about changing temperatures. Now, of course, it's alright for books to have a moral, a message, but I don't like to feel like I'm being beat over the head with it or being talked down to.

The butterflies Dellarobia witnessed normally wintered in Mexico, but moved to her small town because of environmental changes and now the whole population of Monarch butterflies could be in danger of extinction. A lepidopterist comes to study them, and works with and teaches Dellarobia, highlighting her boredom with her husband and her desire for something bigger. Because of her rudimentary education, the reader receives both the scientific explanations for everything and the 'country' version, a cute little metaphor for everything that's happening. This felt a bit insulting to me, as though this setting was chosen to allow for global warming to be explained in a simplified way that the stupid disbelievers could fathom. Prodigal Summer also dealt with the importance of taking care of the environment, but did not make me feel so lectured.

Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, but I'm disappointed to have not enjoyed a book by one of my favorite authors. Her writing is still gorgeous, but the book is massive, slow, and filled with a lot of minutiae about Dellarobia's life I could have done without. Surely others will appreciate this one (most of the reviews on Goodreads are highly flattering and NPR approves), but it fell flat with me.
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Showing 1-10 of 68 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 7, 2012, 8:35:56 AM PST
Although I don't agree with your conclusions, you express yourself beautifully and back up your 3 star review. I voted "helpful."

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 7, 2012, 8:37:27 AM PST
Thanks. That's sweet of you. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it. Hard to say.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 8, 2012, 9:24:11 AM PST
I agree wtih Jill. Although I haven't read the book yet (but I will; I can't bear to miss a Kingsolver book), I completely appreciate a three-star review that supports its rating. Thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 8, 2012, 10:24:13 AM PST
Aww, thanks. I hope you both have a better experience with it than I did. Perhaps I'm simply in a slump or wasn't in the right mood.

Posted on Nov 8, 2012, 12:41:41 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Nov 8, 2012, 1:03:48 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 8, 2012, 12:49:22 PM PST
Folks, notice that I have 346 Amazon reviews, almost all of fiction. If you click on my profile, it should be pretty obvious that reviewing books is what I do:

Nor am I at all involved in the carbon industry or politics. Your assertion is entirely specious and ill-researched. I happen to agree with Kingsolver's concern about climate change, but didn't appreciate the handling in this book. I preferred Prodigal Summer, which had similar themes about the environment.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 8, 2012, 12:56:25 PM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 8, 2012, 12:56:39 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 8, 2012, 1:00:35 PM PST
Why is it that so many readers are so resistant to opposing points of view? Especially on a fair, balanced review? This type of comment is unfounded, unreasearched, unconstructive, and smells suspiciously of the hidden agenda that it purports to be exposing.

I'm sorry your review was trolled, Christina.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 8, 2012, 1:00:45 PM PST
Eric Chaffee says:
I'm dreadfully sorry. The fact that Amazon failed to link your many previous reviews to this one caused me to speculate about "why the dog didn't bark." I would have removed my comment about carbon industry myself, but see that Amazon has already done so. ~eric.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 8, 2012, 1:04:36 PM PST
If you click on a user's name, it always takes you to their profile. You should really be careful before casting accusations like that, but I accept your apology.

A three star review isn't even bad. The rating system on Amazon defines three stars as okay, and that's what the book was for me. Four stars is I liked it, and I didn't feel that strongly. Book reviews are very subjective, so, while I do not mind if people did not have the same reaction I did, I don't like being told I'm lying or trying to denigrate an author. I mentioned many times how moved I've been by her and the past and how beautiful her writing is.

Thank you for retracting your assertion (or trying to).
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