For years (and years) my favorite Barbara Kingsolver book was The Poisonwood Bible, followed by Prodigal Summer. And then I read Flight Behavior and I believe that I have a new favorite. I have enjoyed everything I’ve ever read by Kingsolver, but there is a timeliness to Flight Behavior that makes it extra special.
The story features Dellarobia Turnbow, a slight-statured, red-haired farmwife in rural, western Tennessee. Dellarobia has no family outside the family she’s made with her gentle giant of a husband, Cub, and their two kids, on his parents’ sheep farm. Dellarobia’s days are filled with a love for her kids, a dissatisfaction with her husband, a low-grade war with her mother-in-law and crushes on inappropriate men.
Dellarobia is on her way to take one of her crushes to the next level when she encounters what she believes is a miracle. She observes what appears to be a sort of non-burning fire in the forested hills behind the Turnbow family farm. Forested hills that are scheduled to be logged to assist with farming and equipment loans.
The miracle turns out to be millions and millions of monarch butterflies wintering in those Tennessee hills instead of flying further south to their traditional overwintering location in Michoacan, Mexico. Kingsolver goes on to deftly explore (via a monarch specialist named Ovid) the impacts of global warming on the monarch population and the impact of the monarch population overwintering in the much, much colder hills of the southern Appalachians.
And, the global warming aspect of this book is fascinating, it is. But, what I found even more fascinating and, given our current political climate, even more timely, was how Kingsolver handled the divide between the scientists who came to study the monarchs and the local farmers who needed those monarch-covered trees to keep their farms and businesses. She touches on the fact that people tend to read, listen to and congregate with people like themselves. And that most people don’t try to cross that divide believing the other side just won’t understand.
And, perhaps the other side won’t understand. I mean, people are pretty set in their ways. But, what I thought Kingsolver did well was look at why people are set in their ways. Or, not even necessarily set in their ways, because that implies adhering to something by choice. Kingsolver demonstrates that not everything is a choice.
There is, for example, an exchange between Dellarobia and a well-meaning man visiting the monarch site to encourage people to sign a pledge to reduce their carbon footprints in several areas of their lives. He felt it was important to get people in the area “on board.”
For example, number one is to “Bring your own Tupperware to a restaurant for leftovers as soon as possible.” Dellarobia points out that she hasn’t been to a restaurant in over two years because they cannot afford it. Therefore points two and three, bringing your own mug for coffee or using your own cutlery instead of plastic utensils also do not apply.
He advises to try her best to buy re-used, but that’s all the family can afford, especially for the growing kids. Other advice includes switching “some of your stocks and mutual funds to socially responsible investments,” “buy a low-emission vehicle” and “fly less.” Again, yes, these are conscious decisions that some people can make to help combat global warming, but, for others, these decisions are made for them.
Kingsolver handles everything above absolutely beautifully and also takes the time to throw in a wonderful twist with Dellarobia and her mother-in-law. I definitely recommend this book and happily give it five stars.