Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Novels’

I read Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Prodigal Summer’ last year and liked it very much. I had wanted to read other books by her since that time. When I discovered that she has come out with a new book, I couldn’t resist getting it. I finished reading ‘Flight Behavior’ yesterday and here is what I think.

Flight Behavior By Barbara Kingsolver

‘Flight Behavior’ is about a farm wife, Dellarobia, and her life. Dellarobia lives near the mountains alongwith her husband and works in the farm of her in-laws. When she was in high school, she had wanted to go to college, but she got pregnant and so got married to Cub. Unfortunately, her child is stillborn, but she stays married to Cub and later has a son, Preston, and a daughter, Cordie. She is not very happy with her life though she loves her children. She likes her husband, but she feels that she and her husband are different in many ways and her parents-in-law aren’t really nice to her. One day, to escape from her dreary life, she drives up the mountain to meet a young man and have an affair with him, unmindful of the consequences (It is the first scene in the story. The first sentence in the book is a beautiful, trademark Barbara Kingsolver first sentence – “A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture.”). When she reaches the top, she sees a glorious sight. The valley seems to be filled with a lake of fire. Dellarobia is astounded and she thinks this is a sign. She comes back home without meeting the young man. Meanwhile her father-in-law signs a contract with a logging company to cut down the trees in the mountain. When his family protests, he refuses to listen to them. Dellarobia tells her husband to first checkout the mountain before deciding to cut the trees. The whole family goes up the mountain. And they see what Dellarobia had seen earlier. The only difference is that the scene is not a lake of fire. It is an ocean of monarch butterflies – millions and millions of them – which give that illusion. Soon everyone in the town is talking about how Dellarobia had this vision. TV channels arrive for her interview. A scientist comes with his assistants and starts research. Dellarobia becomes friends with him and after a while gets to work in his team. She discovers that the presence of so many monarch butterflies is not a good sign. It is probably because of global warming which might lead to the extinction of this butterfly species. What happens next – to the butterfly species and to Dellarobia – forms the rest of the story.


‘Flight Behavior’ is an interesting story which deals with two themes – the travails of a farm wife and the issue of climate change. Barbara Kingsolver blends the particular and the general quite well and weaves these two diverse strands into a beautiful whole – while one strand of the story depicts how the monarch butterfly faces challenges posed by the environment and tries to adapt to change, the second strand shows how Dellarobia faces the challenges posed by her restraining circumstances and how she adapts herself to face them and overcome them. Though climate change plays an important part in the book, I think what stands out in the story is the travails of the farm wife – how Dellarobia is talented but she is restrained by her circumstances which stunt her from growing as a person and prevent her talents from flowering. There are no ‘bad guys’ in the story who are preventing her from realizing her potential – it is just the way things are. The trademark Barbara Kingsolver sentences keep appearing throughout the book. The farming parts of the story are described in detail. One of my favourite scenes in the book is the one where a ewe gives birth to a baby sheep which seems to be stillborn and Dellarobia revives it and get it to breathe. Small town scenes are painted beautifully throughout the book – like getting children ready for the school bus in the morning, shopping at a second hand goods store, going to church on Sundays, how neighbours influence each other and intrude into each other’s lives, how the local pastor plays an influential role in the lives of people.


When I read ‘Flight Behavior’ I couldn’t resist comparing it with ‘Prodigal Summer’. Both of them have some common themes – preservation of wild life, life of a farm wife, in-law trouble, small town issues. ‘Flight Behavior’ had a traditional, straightforward story with a beginning, a middle and an end with one main heroine unlike ‘Prodigal Summer’. However, I felt that Kingsolver’s prose in ‘Prodigal Summer’ was more beautiful. There were many beautiful lines and passages in ‘Flight Behavior’ but the focus was more on the story rather than on the beautiful sentences. However, for some reason, inspite of the focus on the story, the pages moved very slowly and it took me quite a while to finish the book. Also, in ‘Prodigal Summer’ the coyote and the luna moth were more like characters in the story, while in ‘Flight Behavior’ I didn’t feel the same way about the monarch butterfly. Maybe because there were millions of them out there in the valley, I didn’t really fall in love with them, though I liked their story.


I found ‘Flight Behavior’ quite interesting. It was a slow-read for me, but I liked the stories and the characters and the family scenes and the themes that the book addressed. It has been shortlisted for the Orange prize this year and it will be interesting to track its progress there.


I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.


The way he closed his fingers in a bracelet around her ankles and wrists marveling at her smallness, gave her the dimensions of an expensive jewel rather than an inconsequential adult.


People automatically estimate a mom’s IQ at around her children’s ages, maybe dividing by the number of kids, rounding up to the nearest pajama size.


Having children was not like people said. Forget training them in your footsteps; the minute they put down the teething ring and found the Internet, you were useless as a source of anything but shoes and a winter coat.


Dovey : “Will you explain to me why people encourage delusional behavior in children, and medicate it in adults? That’s so random. It’s like this whole shady setup.”

Dellarobia : “True. At what age do you cross over the line and say, ‘Now I’ll face reality?’”

Dovey : “When you get there, send me a postcard.”


Dellarobia : “I don’t know how a person could even get through the day, knowing what you know.”

Ovid : “So. What gets Dellarobia through her day?”

Dellarobia : “Meeting the bus on time. Getting the kids to eat supper, getting teeth brushed. No cavities the next time. Little hopes, you know? There’s just not room at our house for the end of the world. Sorry to be a doubting Thomas.”

Ovid : “Well, you’re hardly the first. People always want the full predicament revealed and proven in sixty seconds or less.”


“Now, see, that’s why everybody wants Internet friends. You can find people just exactly like you. Screw your neighbors and your family, too messy. The trouble is, once you filter out everybody that doesn’t agree with you, all that’s left is maybe this one retired surfer guy living in Idaho.”


It was hard to feel the remotest sympathy for any of the different fools she had been. As opposed to the fool she was probably being now. People hang on for dear life to that one, she thought : the fool they are right now.


Have you read Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Flight Behavior’? What do you think about it?

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