Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver, HarperCollins, 2012, 386 pp
Wow! Back to back, I read two of my favorite authors. Immediately after finishing Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam, I began Flight Behavior. It was equally great.
Barbara Kingsolver, aside from being a wonderful storyteller, always brings a societal issue to life with stories about characters living under the influence of said societal issue. In Flight Behavior, Dellarobia Turnbow is a frustrated wife and mother, living in near poverty in a small Appalachian town. The story opens on a day when Dellarobia has decided to be unfaithful to her husband. On the way to a prearranged tryst, she witnesses a forest valley filled with an orange flaming light.
Religion is a big deal in Feathertown, TN and though she is not a true believer, Dellarobia goes to church just because one must. But she is so stunned by the vision in the valley that she feels a miracle has saved her from making a big mistake.
Before long it becomes clear that the valley, which is on her in-laws' property, is filled with butterflies that have detoured from their normal migratory route. Soon enough, the scientist Dr Ovid Byron, the media, the townspeople, and the in-laws are embroiled.
So the story is about climate change, about religious fundamentalism, about the inability of all of us to believe that we have already just about killed off our planet. But it is also about a woman, who through her own foolishness and misfortunes, has just about ruined her life.
Dellarobia, whose high level of intelligence is her best characteristic, muddles her way through the turmoil in her town and family. She emerges with a sense of self she had never had before and makes a decision which split my reading group into two opposing camps.
Kingsolver is an extremely canny author. She gets accused of preaching but actually she never gives easy answers to either the big issues or the personal problems of her characters. She just gets readers thinking about all these things. Do we have a responsibility to our environment no matter what economic status we occupy? Does a woman, especially one with children, have a right to happiness and a fulfilling life? For that matter, what is a fulfilling life?
(Flight Behavior is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)