Sunday, April 14, 2013

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Anyone who goes into a Barbara Kingsolver book without anticipating a meandering sermon in the context of sumptuous writing hasn’t read much Kingsolver. Since Flight Behavior has been detailed to death by reviewers, I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that this is the story of a young Appalachian mother who feels trapped in her back-woods community, her unexciting marriage, at the mercy of her in-laws, and floundering in the trials of motherhood. Then in a trek up the hill to a tryst, her feeble “flight” from reality, main character, Dellarobia (love the name), discovers a massive kaleidoscope of monarch butterflies completely covering a nearby canyon. 

Kingsolver certainly sets the stage for a good story, but in spite of her delicious writing, it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. We don’t quite like Dellarobia; we don’t quite dislike her husband or mother-in-law.  Her prospective lovers never quite materialize, the conflict between the butterfly defenders and the loggers never quite comes to climax, Dellarobia never finds a smart solution to her situation. I just found myself peaking hill after hill to find nothing breathtaking on the other side.

Kingsolver grew up in Kentucky and has a graduate degree in Evolutionary Biology, so it is not surprising that she has written a number of books about rural life, rural people, and the perils of human impact on the environment, my favorites being Animal, Vegetable Miracle and Prodigal Summer. However, in spite of her stunning prose, she sometimes, especially in Flight Behavior, tends to portray country people as ignorant and backward, which is stereotyping, and she tends to use them as mouthpieces to talk down to readers, which is pretentious and condescending.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always read Barbara Kingsolver’s books because her writing is beautiful, her story lines are interesting, i. e. monarch butterflies migrating to Tennessee instead of central Mexico because of global warming, and she does a fab job of reading her own books (for those of us who frequent audio books), but I could love her more if not for the clich├ęs and condescension.

In spite of this rather negative review, I’m going to recommend that you read Flight Behavior because Barbara Kingsolver simply doesn’t write a bad book. It is worth the read, it just won’t make your list of “best.”

1 comment:

  1. I'm still struggling with my thoughts on this book. I felt it was a bit too preachy at times and about more than climate change. Still, it was a fascinating look at a completely different lifestyle and the unexpected impact our global issues can have on even the most harmless elements of nature.