Saturday, March 23, 2013

Flight Behavior

Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Dellarobia was seventeen, she married Cub Turnbow because they had a baby on the way. She miscarried shortly afterward, but the damage was done, and her dreams of college and escaping the confines of impoverished Feathertown, Tennessee, died also. More than a decade later, Dellarobia's quiet despair leads her to hike up a hill for an adulterous rendezvous. Before she arrives, however, she sees the forest aflame with a soundless fire and returns home with the conviction that the miracle was meant to save her. She is no longer the same person; sparks of her original personality have reignited. When her father-in-law decides to cut down the forest to pay a large debt, she lobbies her husband to intervene, telling him they should at least look at what they are selling off before it's too late. Grudgingly, her in-laws and her husband agree to make the trip, so this time Dellarobia wears her glasses and discovers that the flames are actually butterflies. Millions--maybe billions--of monarch butterflies.

News of the butterflies spreads to news outlets, both local and national, and soon Dellarobia is in the uncomfortable media spotlight as the woman whose "vision" led to the discovery. When a stranger appears at her door, she impulsively invites him to dinner and changes the course of her life forever, for he is a lepidopterist--a butterfly scientist. The unearthly beauty of the butterflies is actually a natural disaster: they should have returned to the milder climate of the mountains of Mexico, and an Appalachian winter might mean their extinction.

Kingsolver is a master of character development. I didn't find much to admire in Dellarobia to begin with, given her her chain-smoking and her decision to throw her marriage away on a foolish obsession. But she grows and changes into a woman I could empathize with and respect. And Kingsolver doesn't skimp on the other characters, either. For example, Cub is a good, kind man who is simply a bad match for Dellarobia. Their children come to life, particularly five-year-old Preston, the budding scientist. Even Cub's mother, Hester, is depicted with depth. No one is simply a stereotype--not the preacher, nor the congregants, not the scientists, and not the townsfolk. Kingsolver grew up in Appalachia and treats it with respect, acknowledging both the poverty and limited choices but also the inherent thrift. Everyone--environmentalists and locals alike--acts with the best of intentions. I really appreciated that.

For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways, primarily, but also language and story (as is customary with Kingsolver's novels). No sex, aside from a pair of butterflies, nor violence, and only a little mild swearing. The pace of the book is generally relaxed, so I wouldn't suggest it to anyone who only reads "page-turners."

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