This is the second week of the readalong of ‘Prodigal Summer’ that I am doing with Delia from Postcards from Asia. This week we are covering chapters nine through eighteen from the book.
This part of the book expands all the three story strands in detail. We get to know more about how Garnett Walker is trying to revive the American chestnut tree by cross pollinating it with the Chinese chestnut so that the new breed which comes out has the properties of the American chestnut, but is resistant to blight as the Chinese chestnut is. The small skirmishes between Garnett Walker and Nannie Rawley come out in the open. Both of them start writing letters to each other describing their thoughts on how a farm should be run and what they think about insecticides and pesticides. Garnett believes in the modern way of doing things – use a lot of insecticides and pesticides and kill unwanted pests so that the crop can survive. Nannie is old-fashioned in her thoughts – she feels that pesticides are counter-productive and they are also not good for the people who eat the farm produce. She believes in organic farming. Garnett and Nannie have long conversations on this topic – through letters and in person. In the first part of the book, I tended to side with Garnett and found Nannie a bit irritating, though she made only a fleeting appearance in that part of the book. However, in the second part of the book, I tended to side with Nannie and started liking her more, after her conversations with Garnett.
The second part of the book also explored the story of Deanna and the stranger she is attracted to, Eddie, in more detail. Eddie starts coming more often to Deanna’s cabin in the forest and staying with her. Deanna discovers that there is a coyote family which has moved to this part of the mountains. She knows that farmers hate coyotes and kill them when they see them. According to her, coyotes don’t trouble farmers and mind their business, but people are conditioned to dislike them and kill them. Then to her shock she discovers that Eddie dislikes coyotes and is probably a coyote hunter. She is in a difficult spot, trying to balance her love for Eddie and her love for coyotes. This part of the story also reveals that Nannie Rawley and Deanna are related in a way – that Deanna’s father and Nannie Rawley were seeing each other for a while and even had a daughter, who died young.
The story of Lusa gets interesting in this part of the book. She is struggling to cope with the loss of her husband. She discovers new things about him from her in-laws, which surprise her. For example, he was a romantic as a farmer – he didn’t want to grow tobacco but wanted to grow other produce which was useful, but had to give up after years of trying, when it turned out that his plans were not financially viable. Interestingly and unexpectedly, she also becomes friends with Jewel, one of her sisters-in-law and discovers that her in-laws are not bad at all. She also becomes friends with Rickie, the son of one of her sisters-in-law. One of my favourite parts of this story was when Lusa and Rickie have a long conversation, when he comes to visit her – they talk about life in the farm, about her husband Cole, and other things. During the course of this conversation, Lusa tells Rickie that she is planning to rear goats in her farm to generate money to run the farm and he helps her with information on how to rear goats and also asks her to talk to Garnett Walker who is regarded as the expert in goats in that area. In a later chapter, Lusa invites all her in-laws for an evening at her home and the whole family is there. During the course of the evening Lusa discovers that her in-laws are friendly in their own way and they are not that as bad as she thought. Lusa also gets to know Jewel’s daughter Crys, who seems to look like a trouble-maker from the outside, but who Lusa discovers is a gentle and tortured soul inside.
This part of the book expands the stories of the three main characters – Deanna, Lusa and Garnett. It also introduces some new interesting characters like Rickie and Crys and explores some of the previously introduced characters in depth like Nannie Rawley and Jewel.
There is a little bit on coyotes in this part of the book, but there is not much on the Luna Moth. There is more conversation and the plot picks up pace, but there is less on nature, when compared to the first part. However those beautiful passages on nature – Barbara Kingsolver keeps them coming.
When I read the first part of the book, my favourite character was Deanna, though I warmed up to Lusa towards the end. During the second part of the book, I still liked Deanna, but I also felt that Lusa’s character was getting fleshed out more. Kingsolver spent more time describing Lusa’s life in the farm and the story picked up pace here. There were some wonderful conversations in this story strand – between Lusa and Rickie, Lusa and Crys – and they were a pleasure to read. At the end of this part I liked Lusa as much as Deanna, maybe a little bit more. I also started warming up towards Nannie Rawley as she started making more appearances in the story.
Another interesting thing in this part of the book was the connections which Kingsolver reveals between the three story strands. Deanna seems to be related to Nannie Rawley, while the cabin that Deanna stays in, in the forest, was built by Garnett Walker’s family. Lusa calls Garnett Walker for information regarding rearing goats. Deanna and Lusa don’t seem to have any connection till now, but I will look forward to finding out whether they talk or meet in the third part of the story.
I read the second part of the book faster than the first part, because the plot picked up pace and there was a lot of dialogue. What will happen in the third part? Will Garnett be able to revive the American chestnut? Will Deanna be able to save the coyotes? Will Lusa’s plan of rearing goats work? Also will Lusa be able to continue her friendship with Jewel, Rickie and Crys? I can’t wait to find out.
I will leave you with some of my favourite passages.
The loudest sound on the earth, she thought, is a man with nothing to do.
How pointless life could be, what a foolish business of inventing things to love, just so you could dread losing them.
She breathed deeply and tried not to hate this snake. Doing his job, was all. Living out his life like the thousand other copperheads on this mountain that would never be seen by human eyes, they wanted only their one or two rodents a month, the living wage, a contribution to balance. Not one of them wanted to be stepped on or, heaven forbid, o have to sink its fangs into a monstrous, inedible animal a hundred times its size – a waste of expensive toxin at best. She knew all this. You can stare at a thing and know that you personally have no place in its heart whatsoever, but keeping it out of yours is another matter.
She pulled the blankets over her head, leaving a small window through which he could watch his careful, steady hands place kindling inside the stove. She thought about the things people did with their highly praised hands : made fires that burned out; sawed down trees to build houses that would rot and fall down in time. How could those things compare with the grace of a moth on a leaf, laying perfect rows of tiny, glassy eggs? Or a phoebe weaving a nest of moss in which to hatch her brood? Still, as she watched him light a match and bring warmth into the cabin while the rain pounded down overhead, she let herself feel thankful for those hands, at least for right now. When he climbed into bed beside her, they held her until she fell asleep.
You can find Delia’s thoughts on the second part of ‘Prodigal Summer’ here.
Have you read ‘Prodigal Summer’? What do you think about it?