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.
Barbara Kingsolver is one of those authors who I really want to like. I haven't read anything else by her, but "Poisonwood Bible" is on my Classics Club list, so I'll get to that sooner or later.
Even though I didn't go all fangirl-squeee over "Flight Behavior", I liked several things about this novel, even after having read some rather lukewarm opinions and a few people not even finishing the book.
|Monarch butterflies. From|
Basically, this is a warning book. The climate change is destroying the earth, whether we are willing to admit it or not. Migration of Monarch butterflies has been disturbed and the whole species is in danger of becoming extinct. In the middle of this setting is life of Dellarobia Turnbow and her simple family and their simple town. A lot of focus is put on Dellarobia's marriage and why it is (or is not) working.
Kingsolver has degrees in biology and her background as a working scientist shows. But not in a negative way. I think one of the absolute strengths of "Flight Behavior" is the bits that have to do with nature and environment; the descriptive parts are very vivid and I found the whole surroundings super easy to imagine in my head. Characters are alright, I loved Dellarobia's feet-on-the-ground attitude - even though she has not had the easiest life, she is far from naive and has healthy, semi-sarcastic attitude towards her children (which I prefer over the gushing "Children are blossoms of our life!" kind of attitude). In fact, Dellarobia's views on parenthood are far from idyllic:
Whose idea was it to keep kids home from school a full week and more after Christmas? Preston was having a rocket-science day, using toys as projectiles and sofa cushions as the landing pad. Cordelia did something she called "farmer" with the Cheerios, planting the entire box like seeds in the living room carpet while Dellarobia was in the bathroom less than five minutes. She could see her future in that carpet, the endless vacuuming, the grit on the soles of everyone's feet. Like a beach vacation minus the beach, and the vacation. /p. 200/
The whole text is decorated with modest humour bordering on self-irony. I especially enjoyed the bits that showed conflict between the science and the media, and how media wants everything to be dolled up and cater to the pleasure of the viewers, while there might be nothing beautiful about the situation at hand. (Ovid Byron is the scientist that has come to examine the problem with Monarch butterflies and Tina Ultner is the TV-host that thinks the migrational problems of the butterflies have created a "beautiful scene"):
"What scientists disagree on now, Tina, is how to express our shock. The glaciers that keep Asia's watersheds in business are going right away. Maybe one of your interns could Google that for you. The Arctic is genuinely collapsing. Scientists used to call these things the canary in the mine. What they say now is, The canary is dead. We are at the top of Niagara Falls, Tina, in a canoe. There is an image for your viewers. We got here by drifting, but we cannot turn around for a lazy paddle back when you finally stop pissing around. We have arrived at the point of an audible roar. Does it strike you as a good time to debate the existence of falls?" /p. 367/
It's patronising and harsh but also hilarious because she totally deserved this.
When I finished "Flight Behavior", I was a bit disappointed that I did not form the kind of emotional attachment to it that I had wished for. However, it is one of those books I have started appreciating more after the days pass. It was good to read about a big and important topic - in that sense, it was also an educational novel. Kingsolver is definitely a skilled author, although I can't compare with her previous works. I am hoping that this is not her best book and that I can get even deeper into her text through "Poisonwood Bible" in future.
|Picture from here.|
Women's Prize 2013 shortlist.
I am so curious about this book. Thanks for this great review :)ReplyDelete
Thank you, Ciska! Women's Prize shortlist books have all been good reads for me so far :)Delete
'Lukewarm' is how I would describe my attitude to this book. There is something about it that is putting me off. I'm not sure my Mum's attitude to Kingsolver helps (it's cold, at best). I think the climate change/science-y stuff doesn't help. I'm not the biggest fan. But, saying that, those quotes are quite intriguing and maybe the personal relationships would bring it round. I don't know. I have just ordered it so I will read it eventually. Sooner rather than later if she does win, of course.ReplyDelete
Even if you didn't love it I'm very excited for you that you have finished it. It's quite the achievement! I do hope you form a better attachment to The Poisonwood Bible, I have heard it is amazing (though my Mum hates it...) :D
Thanks, Ellie! Thing is, I wasn't exactly excited about the environmental issues in the book either (before reading) - my expecations were also low, that's why I got to this book so late (bought it long ago with some other Women's Prize candidates). However, I did have to adjust my opinion because it didn't stand out in the story, in a bad way. It was more like sown into it, and it wasn't really even that dominant. And I did like Kingsolver's take on the topic of media vs science, and I did like media-guys being shown to their place (the whole media mutating the situations beyond recognitions is quite close to my heart).Delete
There is of course the question whether it got to the shortlist because of its contents or just because Kingsolver's quite "big" on the scene, you know, but same goes for Mantel and Atkinson (and probably also Zadie Smith), really, and I guess it's inevitable.
I know that people, whose reading experience we trust, have quite an influence on our take on things, but I wanted to read at least one book to form an opinion myself :)
I should definitely read this one by her! I'm surprised that I haven't yet. Also if you liked the nature-y bits, Prodigal Summer by Kingsolver is also really good :)ReplyDelete
I actually read a review on Prodigal Summer and totally got the same kind of vibe from there. (I think there were also comparisons made to Ann Patchett, who I haven't read yet, but can't wait to!)Delete
I love Kingsolver but do think this sounds too much like an 'issue' book, it's not a good sign that you didn't feel any emotional attachment, that would bother me as a reader.ReplyDelete
However, The Poisonwood Bible is AWESOME and The Lacuna is also very good.
You are right in the sense that I probably would not recommend this particular Kingsolver book myself, but I don't regret that I reda it. But I'm really happy that Poisonwood Bible has received so many positive opinions. I've also had my eye on The Lacuna because it won the Orange Prize :)Delete