Flight Behavior transfixes from its opening scene, when a young woman's narrow experience of life is thrown wide with the force of a raging fire. In the lyrical language of her native Appalachia, Barbara Kingsolver bares the rich, tarnished humanity of her novel's inhabitants and unearths the modern complexities of rural existence.Read more...
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Flight Behavior transfixes from its opening scene, when a young woman's narrow experience of life is thrown wide with the force of a raging fire. In the lyrical language of her native Appalachia, Barbara Kingsolver bares the rich, tarnished humanity of her novel's inhabitants and unearths the modern complexities of rural existence. Characters and reader alike are quickly carried beyond familiar territory here, into the unsettled ground of science, faith, and everyday truces between reason and conviction.
Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.
Flight Behavior takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-07-23
- Reviewer: Staff
With her powerful new novel, Kingsolver (The Lacuna) delivers literary fiction that conveys an urgent social message. Set in a rural Tennessee that has endured unseasonal rain, the plot explores the effects of a bizarre biological event on a Bible Belt community. The sight that young wife and mother Dellarobia Turnbow comes upon—millions of monarch butterflies glowing like a “lake of fire” in a sheep pasture owned by her in-laws—is immediately branded a miracle, and promises a lucrative tourist season for the financially beleaguered Turnbows. But the arrival of a research team led by sexy scientist Ovid Byron reveals the troubling truth behind the butterflies’ presence: they’ve been driven by pollution from their usual Mexican winter grounds and now face extinction due to northern hemisphere temperatures. Equally threatening is the fact that her father-in-law, Bear, has sold the land to loggers. Already restless in her marriage to the passive Cub, for whom she gave up college when she became pregnant at 17, unsophisticated, cigarette-addicted Dellarobia takes a mammoth leap when she starts working with the research team. As her horizons expand, she faces a choice between the status quo and, perhaps, personal fulfillment. Spunky Dellarobia is immensely appealing; the caustic view she holds of her husband, in-laws, and neighbors, the self-deprecating repartee she has with her best friend Dovey, and her views about the tedium of motherhood combined with a loving but clear-eyed appraisal of her own children invest the narrative with authenticity and sparkling humor. Kingsolver also animates and never judges the uneducated, superstitious, religiously devout residents of Feathertown. As Dellarobia flees into a belated coming-of-age, which becomes the ironic outcome of the Monarchs’ flight path to possible catastrophe in the collapse of a continental ecosystem, the dramatic saga becomes a clarion call about climate change, too lucid and vivid for even skeptics to ignore. 8-city author tour. One-day laydown. (Nov. 5)
Kingsolver speaks for Mother Earth
It often seems that an MFA in creative writing is a prerequisite for published authors today. However, Barbara Kingsolver has a different educational background fueling her works: Prior to trying her hand at fiction, she majored in biology and then completed a master’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. Kingsolver’s concern for the earth has never been so palpable—or so passionate—as in her latest novel, Flight Behavior, where global warming causes things to heat up in small-town Tennessee.
Flight Behavior begins with a breathtaking image: On the way to throw her good life away, Dellarobia Turnbow is stopped dead in her tracks when she glimpses a lake of fire up in her family’s hills. Dellarobia believes her vision is a warning from above that she must mend her traitorous heart and put an end to her sinful ways. When the reality of what she has witnessed is revealed, the church announces that they are experiencing a modern-day miracle; but before long, scientists are swooping in to offer a darker, more sinister explanation for what is happening up on the mountain. Dellarobia soon finds herself embroiled in a battle between fact and faith—and her marriage, her family, her standing in the community, as well as her very conception of the world, hang in the balance.
Inspired by actual environmental events in Mexico, Kingsolver uses Flight Behavior as a platform to deftly enrobe the mounting evidence for climate change and its devastating effects in a satisfying narrative cocoon, an example of literary activism at its finest. Though Kingsolver’s agenda is far from subtle, it is a testament to her skill that the story never loses its way or its heart, and never seems pedantic. Melding the religious aspects of her breakaway hit, The Poisonwood Bible, with the ecological concerns documented in Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, this feels like the book that all of Kingsolver’s previous novels have been leading up to. The end result is a delicate symbiosis between the sacred and the scientific in this richly rewarding novel that will both entertain and incite its readers.