Monday, January 28, 2013

What I'm Reading: Flight Behavior (Barbara Kingsolver)

I've loved all of Barbara Kingsolver's novels except for The Poisonwood Bible (which was actually the first of her books that I read, so obviously I didn't hate it since I went on to read more). So, I was thrilled to see she'd come out with a new one.

The Story: Dellarobia Turnbow is a young mother, living on her husband Cub's family sheep farm in Appalachia.  On a walk up the mountainous side of their property, she discovers that their forest is, inexplicably, covered with monarch butterflies. This discovery draws the community to the farm to view what many see as a miracle. As word spreads, others arrive from farther way, including a team of scientists with their own perspective on the "miracle" (climate change) that has brought the butterflies to a region they've never been to before.

My bookmark is on page 156 of 433, which is early in chapter 7.

Thoughts: I was a little worried in chapter one, to be honest. Dellarobia was walking up the side of the mountain to meet up with a guy, and it was taking her the w-h-o-l-e chapter to walk up the hill, see that the trees looked weird (she wasn't wearing her glasses), decide not to meet with the guy, and walk down the hill again. Let's just say . . . I generally like a faster-paced beginning. This didn't bode well.

By the end of chapter two, though, things start happening. Most importantly, Dellarobia starts to find her voice and stand up to her domineering mother-in-law. By chapter 3 I was fully engrossed. Kingsolver writes a good story, and can make me laugh out loud on occasion.

There's one thing I've been grappling with, though. The characters, while definitely not at all flat, seem a bit typecast to me. I've never been to Appalachia, and Kingsolver grew up there, so obviously she knows these people and I don't. I often struggle with this in books set in the south, as well, so maybe it's just because people around here are so different in some ways. There are such stereotypes in the media, though, that I guess I would hope that a well-written book would break down those stereotypes for me instead of reinforcing them. I am hoping that some of the characters will surprise me by stepping out of their roles as the book continues. Knowing Kingsolver's skill as a storyteller, they probably will.

A favorite passage: My favorite scene so far is when Dellarobia invites the scientist, Dr. Ovid Byron, to dinner. She doesn't know he's a scientist. All she knows is that he came from far away to see the butterflies, he's black, and he has a Carribbean accent. She feels sorry for him because he's staying in the grossest motel in town. Over dinner, she proceeds to tell him everything she's learned on the internet about the butterflies, and then while listening to him talk to her five-year-old son, it becomes clear that he knows more than he's let on.
"You came here because you're one of the people who study these monarchs," she said.
"You are exactly right. I spent the day doing a quick census up there."
Quick, she thought, as in nine hours. Had he counted them all? "So, you do, what, experiments, or observations? And write up what you found out?"
He nodded. "A dissertation, articles, a couple of books. All on the monarch."
"A couple of books," she said to this man, recalling his look when she'd informed him, They're called monarchs. So, there were worse things than feeding meatloaf to a vegetarian.
Soundtrack: The soundtrack of the movie Cold Mountain comes to mind, both because the story is set in the same region, and because of the way the soundtrack fit in so beautifully with the movie and (by extension) Charles Frazier's book of the same title. For Flight Behavior, I'm going to pick Like a Songbird That Has Fallen, performed by Reeltime Travelers. It's not about butterflies, but close enough.

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  1. I really am not inclined to read any more BK. This book doesn't interest me but I would read it if it ever came up for book club.

  2. This sounds like my kind of book. The only novel I've read by Kingsolver is The Bean Trees which I loved. Her non-fiction is so good. Have you read any of it?

  3. A whole chapter to walk up a hill? Yeah... I think I would push her ;) I will have to check to see if I have read any Kingsbury... I am not sure I have.

  4. I have yet to read any of Kingsolver's fiction, but I may start with this one. The environmental bits are right up my alley.

  5. @Andi, In that case, I'll bet you would also like Prodigal Summer, because it also has a strong environmental theme. I think it's my favorite of hers.

    @Vasilly, I liked Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, but haven't read her other nonfiction or collections of essays. Is there one in particular you'd recommend?

  6. So glad to see you write about this one. I've been wondering if it was any good. I've loved all of Kingsolver's books, so I was excited when I saw she'd published a new one. Thanks for the heads-up on the slow beginning. I'll be sure to keep going if I have the same response.

  7. Wow! Incredible review! I had no idea Barbara Kingsolver wrote in such a manner! I definitely will add Flight Behavior to my must-read list.

    Rowena Hailey (Cash Advance Company)