I had some serious doubts going into this book – The only book of Kingsolver’s I’ve enjoyed has been The Poisonwood Bible, although The Lacuña was pretty good. I tend to object to the overt political stance Kingsolver’s fiction takes – it’s just too heavy-handed, imo. This has often had a flattening effect on the characters, a predictability and reliance on “coincidence” to the plots, a hammering of the themes.
But good reading group member that I am, I tried a sample of Flight Behavior from Audible where I discovered it was read by the author! Oops – big oops! That doesn’t usually work out too well from my experience and the sharing of others.
And now, about 2.5 hours into the story, Kingsolver’s reading skill is fine – greatly improved from another sample I listened to (and I discovered that she’s been reading her own works for years).
But I can see where the story is going – there’s a heavy-duty environmental theme even at the early chapters stage. The farm family at the center of this novel are selling their strand of trees because they’re behind on the farm loans, BUT! a special kind of butterfly is found there. Oh-oh! (hand over mouth in horror) And the Christian community is going to get involved – Kingsolver is not a sympathizer. And then a scientist shows up …
So we’ve got environmental issues (probably global warming), migrant labor, racism (Mexicans and darker skinned, accented Virgin Islanders), Christian groups, anti-science (although Kingsolver is not terribly authentic on that one), money issues of the poor, women’s issues, rural ignorance (country hick trash), “birds of a feather” (oops – monarchs of a wing) – what else?
There might be an interesting parallel between the growth of humans and the development of butterflies – the behavior of humans and that of the monarchs.
Animals are a sum total of their behavior which includes the environment and community. So too humans? The tiny community of Feathertown, of which Dellarobia is a part, is as tied to its behavior as the butterflies?
The first person pov from Dellarobia Turnbow, a young married farm wife, is quite interesting although I suspect Kingsolver is not paying any compliments to her neighbors in Kentucky where she lives and where this story takes place. The first few chapers establish the fact that Dellarobia is really quite smart with a literary predisposition, but that an early pregnancy has trapped her in this small rural town with a husband and children she loves and she feels that life must hold more somewhere. She’s “politically correct” and except for a few flaws Kingsolver apparently felt necessary to give her, quite appealing. Family issues are almost overwhelming because Dellarobia’s husband and his father work the farm together with Dad (who is the owner) making all decisions.
Delarobbia is smart and pretty mixed up about being 21st century or mid 20th. For instance, she’s very unbiased about races and religions but she doesn’t know that women hire babysitters when they go to work. (duh???) She’s decidedly Politically Correct in red-neck country but using the Kentucky speech patterns. (And the narrator’s voice is pitch perfect.)
But she has one deep flaw – she continuously daydreams about illicit sexual affairs – she becomes infatuated very easily and almost (but not quite) jumps in the sack with the guys.
Meanwhile, Hester Turnbow, Dellarobia’s mother-in-law, is distinctly non-PC, hyper-critical and unhappy. The two do not get along at all – But Dellarobia is, imo, not exactly blameless in this relationship – her tongue is needlessly sharp.
And the one flaw of Kingsolver, as usual, is trying to “teach” the readers of her novels. I suppose there are new points to be made to show how global warming is real and dangerous but Kingsolver’s not making many cogent new ones – in spite of the butterflies and the metaphor of lambs – and humans? (or does she miss that one – we’re animals, too).
The earth is not a human child – it’s temperature should not be stable – it will of its own accord – rise and fall over time. What temperature was the earth’s surface in the last ice age? Shouldn’t it normally be cooling? (I think I remember that from my school years.) Are we seeing the end of an ice age or the beginning of doomsday – she seems to feel we’re at the brink of doomsday – I tend to agree if it’s caused by industrial pollution but if it’s part of the normal heating/cooling progress of the earth then …
Some quotes (and certainly not the best):
“This road was 15 miles of hateful.” (And Dellarobia was NOT intimately with the city at the end of those miles?) This is almost closer than my drive to the gym.
“Honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to meet up.” (quoted from a bumper sticker)
“They fished out nine in various shades of hideous.”
“… not like some in your house who has but one idea in a year and gets so worn out from it he has to go lie down.”
Just a note – the reason people don’t just blindly trust the scientists is simply because the scientists have not got what I’d call a great track-record. The times the scientists have been wrong, when you get beyond the ones who got something right, they’re no more blindly acceptable than the religionists. The scientists have differed forever – earth at the center of the solar system? (right) – Columbus thought the earth was round (no sweatski) but how small ? Why did he think that? Because the scientists told him.
I suppose that the study and science of ecology is currently asking people to change whereas in prior generations science has served humans – science has usually told humans to make way for the earth. Our survival instincts will come first and at the moment that’s about having more stuff – using the land and resources to the max. There may well come a day when the resources start drying up – in large part due to weather, over-use, etc. then we’ll need the scientists again to help us get out of the problem. At this point change is more like getting really expensive treatment for what looks like a common cold.
This book is really long – it goes on and on through one winter when the butterflies changed their route and landed near a place called Feathertown, Kentucky. And Cub married Dellarobia in part because she was a whole lot like his mother.