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Book Review: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Book Review: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

“Hey, another novel by Barbara Kingsolver that I haven’t read – score!” This reaction to my discovery of this book three years after its publication date reveals how little I have read or have even browsed bookstore shelves since I became a “mama”. Most of what I’ve read in the past three years has come from Amazon searches of the term “baby sleep” and such things.

But the light at the end of the tunnel has started to bathe me in its full glory, and behold, I was able to purchase, begin reading and actually finish reading this novel in the space of no more than 3 months. And now I am writing a review of it while my baby does what? Sleeps. Thank you, sleep gurus!

I am a diehard Kingsolver fan and have read all of her previous novels. Some are slow to get going (I’m thinking of The Lacuna), but boy are her plots worth the wait! You just never know what is going to happen in her books. But you do know that she will give you insight into people you don’t hang out with everyday. And recently, she’s seemed to be as alarmed as I am about climate change, which makes me love her all the more. The butterfly is an apt metaphor for Kingsolver, who is a delicate but strong novelist with very wide range and a sensitivity to many aspects of every environment.

Flight Behavior is about a smart, young mama in Appalachia with unfulfilled dreams and hard luck in her past that put her where she is today. She feels sleepy, stuck, and unsure about her marriage and her (lack of) career, as so many women do today. She also has a bewildering relationship with her mother-in-law that a few of us can probably relate to.

With patience and empathy, Kingsolver picks apart the rationales and emotional reasons for each family member’s behavior and leads our protagonist out of her feelings of entrapment and ethical conundrum into the light of empowerment and self-determination. [Spoiler alert: It turns out there’s a good reason why the mother-in-law is named Hester!]

At the same time, Kingsolver explores the reasons why some people can deny or discount the scientific story of climate change, and why it is so hard for scientists to communicate with all members of the public about threats to the environment. This book reminded me a bit of Joe Bageant’s non-fiction work Deer-Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War, which is also written from a brilliant insider/outsider perspective on the beliefs of working-class, rural Americans. Kingsolver’s encounter between an activist from the city and the working-class mama protagonist is epic. Dellarobia (the mama) hasn’t eaten out in 2 years, doesn’t buy anything new, and already keeps her thermostat as low as it can go to keep her bills in check. She has no device powerful enough to have an internet connection and would eat more home-grown lamb if only she could afford a freezer to keep it in. Never having been on an airplane, her lifestyle contributes much less to climate change than that of her upper-class, jet-setting, latte-sipping critics in San Francisco. Provided, of course, that she can convince her family not to sell the 50-yr-old grove of woods on their back acres to Weyerhaeuser.

I haven’t mentioned the butterflies, but that’s also what this story is about. If you like vivid nature imagery, you’ll have plenty to feast on here. And this book will eerily connect with all the petition requests you get from environmentalists through about glyphosate pesticides and the plummeting survival rates of our birds, bees, and butterflies.

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