Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Appalachia / Tennessee / 20something / Marriage / Natural Phenomena / Families / Lepidoptera)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper (11/6/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: In rural Tennessee, a young mother finds herself at the center of a heartbreaking and miraculous migration of butterflies.
Do I like the cover?: It's grown on me -- I was sort of 'eh' about it before reading but now I rather like it. The leaf/feather/wing motif is echoed in the chapter headers as well.
I'm reminded of...: Sena Jeter Naslund, Ann Patchett
First line: A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.
Why did I get this book?: I cave to popular sentiment: I couldn't pass up a new Kingsolver.
Review: Like Stephen King, my experience with Kingsolver has been one hit with many DNF'd misses. This book might break that streak, however. It reminded me of what I so enjoyed in The Poisonwood Bible: a sharp look at family, loyalty and betrayal, a nebulous swirl of science and magic. The vibe of this felt like Ann Patchett's State of Wonder with Sena Jeter Naslund's Adam and Eve and a bit of Lauren Groffs The Monsters of Templeton -- all books with really lovely language, maddening and fascinating plots, heroines that kind of annoyed me, and realities that touched lightly on the fantastical.
Dellarobia Turnbow, redheaded, size zero (and dinky tiny as we're constantly told), is 27, the mother of two children, married to a cowed mama's boy nicknamed Cub, living in rural Tennessee. The novel opens with Dellarobia on her way to meet a much younger man for a fling at a small hunting shack out on her husband's family's property. Vain, she takes off without her glasses and stumbles upon a staggering sight: the entire mountaintop coated in what seems to be living fire. It turns out to be about 15 million monarch butterflies, driven out of their usual migratory pattern due to ecological changes.
Dellarobia's discovery of them is seen by her husband -- unaware of her earlier trek up the mountain-- as a kind of religious vision while her in-laws see it as a money making venture (or obstacle to their making money). For Dellarobia, it is a visceral sign of all that is wrong with her and her life. She's confused, electrified, inspired, and devastated by the arrival of the butterflies, but what comes with them helps her eventually make sense of who she wants to be.
This book preoccupied me: when not reading, I chewed over Dellarobia and her life, dying of curiosity, needing to know what happened next. When reading, I was mostly caught up in the story, although Dellarobia occasionally felt too self-conscious about her poverty and lack of education. The themes of conservation, education, and religion also felt a bit heavy-handed at times but I appreciate Kingsolver's interest in taking them on in her fiction.
The writing, of course, was wonderful. Kingsolver can turn a phrase like nobody's business, the kind of sentences that make me giddy at being able to read. Like, Dellarobia had managed to corral her fleecy hair into two wild blond poofs, with a center part so crooked it could get you a DUI... My copy is full of underlined sentences, like a textbook.
I think Kingsolver fans will like this (maybe even love it) and those new to her will get a treat -- although I'd still advise folks to start with The Poisonwood Bible, many other folks are saying this is her best.
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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Flight Behavior to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 11/30.