I fell in love with Barbara Kingsolver in 1989. My Aunt Mary introduced us. My family was on our way from Steinbach, Manitoba to Kykostmovi Arizona where my husband and I were to begin a term of teaching at a Mennonite mission school on the Hopi Indian Reservation. On the way we stopped at Aunt Mary’s in Kansas for a visit and she had thoughtfully placed Kingsolver’s novel The Bean Trees on my nightstand. “The writing is wonderful,” she said “and most of the story takes place in Arizona so I thought you’d like it.” I did. I harbored a dream of someday being a novelist myself and was in awe of Kingsolver’s way of describing things in stunning metaphors I never could have imagined.
I went on to read Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven and Animal Dreams and then she published The Poisonwood Bible. I devoured it and then reread it several times. Kingsolver broke all the established literary rules by writing her utterly appealing novel in the voice of multiple protagonists and she shed brave light on issues that had been troubling me. During our time serving as missionaries on the Hopi Reservation I had begun to question the morality of being a missionary. Was it right to accept money from donors to do something it was really everyone’s duty and/or privilege to do? Was it right to try to convert people to my religion when their own was in many ways similar to mine and seemed to work well for them? Was it right to blithely assume that my faith’s way of looking at the world was the only one that was correct or the best? Weren’t the people missionaries went out to serve often serving the missionaries to an even greater degree? It was as if Kingsolver had looked in my brain and decided to address all those questions while spinning a fascinating story in The Poisonwood Bible.
Since I had LOVED The Poisonwood Bible so much Kingsolver’s subsequent Prodigal Summer was a bit of a let down but I was intrigued by all the plot threads it threw out and the way Kingsolver drew them all together at the end.
I simply couldn’t read more than a couple chapters of her next book The Lacuna though. It didn’t engage me or interest me in the least. So I admit when people began to recommend Kingsolver’s most recent novel Flight Behavior I was skeptical.
But since my friend Marge had generously loaned me her copy and I hadn’t had time to buy any other books I read Flight Behavior on our drive down to Florida and loved it! Part of the reason may have been that we traveled through the region in which the book is set but for the first few chapters anyway I was once again completely mesmerized by Kingsolver’s creative use of language. I found myself going back to read descriptions over and over and savor her unique use of metaphor. Here’s some examples.
The arguments she’d always swallowed like a daily ration of pebbles had begun coming into her mouth and leaping out like frogs.
The trees had lost their leaves early in the unrelenting rain. After a brief fling with coloration they dropped their tresses in clumps like a chemo patient losing her hair.
And who wouldn’t love a book that begins with the line…A certain freeing comes with throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture. And who wouldn’t love a main character named Dellarobia? Kingsolver has given the main protagonist so many quirky endearing traits besides her name to make her fascinating. Watching the arc of Dellarobia’s personal change is richly satisfying.
This is a book about the inevitability of the earth’s demise from the ecological disaster we humans have created. I learned so much about climate change from it, but in the most interesting and engaging way. Kingsolver is passionate about saving the earth and I’ll be the first to admit that Flight Behavior does get a little preachy at times but probably out of necessity.
Though the novel suggests our current ecological situation has put us past the hope of any happy ending, the story is still strangely a hopeful one and ultimately uplifting.
I won’t give away any more of the plot except to say you will never look at a monarch butterfly in the same way again.
I’m ready for the next Barbara Kingsolver novel. I may even go back and try The Lacuna again.
Post about other books I’ve really enjoyed……..