Saturday, February 9, 2013

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Barbara Kingsolver has included a number of plot threads in her novel Flight Behavior, about subjects she cares about, including the primary one - climate change. Flight Behavior is more than either a story to get lost in or a carefully researched non-fiction book, because it is both and, to use a cliché, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The plot threads include: someone living a life that is less than her potential, bigotry against country culture, and the way the world is affected by climate change. These subjects seem unrelated, but Kingsolver makes them work together.

The novel opens with Dellarobia Turnbow walking up a mountain to throw her marriage away on an affair with an attractive telephone lineman. But along the path she encounters something that changes her life, thousands of Monarch butterflies wintering in southern Appalachia. When news of this event spreads to the people of Feathertown, most of the residents take it to be a miracle sent from God. The word spreads further than that small town and soon a scientist named Ovid Byron shows up to study the butterflies. Dellarobia's relationship with that man and with the event that brought him to her changes her life.

Dellarobia lives with her husband, Cub, and their two children in a house on land belonging to her in-laws. Prior to the arrival of the butterflies her life consists of taking care of the kids and shopping at second hand shops and dollar stores. Early in the novel Dellarobia thinks she's been named after a hand crafted wreath, something she isn't proud of. But she discovers later on that della Robbia is the name of a fifteenth century sculptor. Dellarobia's name is a great metaphor for her life, how she is much more than she thought she was.

One of my favorite quotes from the novel comes from a conversation between Ovid and his wife, Juliette. They are speaking about Dellarobia's theory concerning the reasons why many country people doubt that climate change exists. Ovid says, “Climate change denial functions like folk art for some people, a way of defining survival in their own terms.” Juliette's reply is that she had always thought the attitude came from “Corporate mantras via conservative media.” There is probably truth in both points, but Ovid's is less simplistic and respects the people of Appalachia for having the ability to come up with their own ideas.

I love Barbara Kingsolver's writing and her activism. This book is one of her best.

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