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Flight Behavior

by Barbara Kingsolver

A Book Review by Sunny Daily

Barbara Kingsolver is a genius.  One of my most favorite books of all time is The Poisionwood Bible and her book  Animal,Vegetable, Miracle set me on a path towards more mindful living. Her most recent book, Flight Behavior, captured my attention from the opening scene.

Dellarobia Turnbow is a 28 year old mother of two. In the opening scene she is  walking away from her everyday life living on her in laws' sheep farm in rural Tennessee, from the house she and her husband built after her high school pregnancy and marriage. She is so sick of the life she lives she is willing to wreck it. The opening lines “A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture. Or so it seemed for now…She knew her own recklessness and marveled, really, at how one hard little flint of thrill could out weigh the pillowy, suffocating aftermath of a long disgrace.” vividly paint and give texture to the point this woman is in her life.

At the top of the mountain Dellarobia has what she thinks is a vision. “No words came to her that seemed sane. Trees to turned to fire, a burning bush. Moses came to mind, and Ezekiel, words from Scripture…” It must be a sign. "It was not too late to undo this mess. Walk down the mountain, pick up those kids. The burning trees were put here to save her." It turns out what she experienced is an infestation of monarch butterflies. The butterflies are key in this. She does turn around and heads back home where she will face other issues brought about by the butterflies.

Unseasonably heavy rains have brought down hundred year old trees on the farm and ruined the pasture land. In order to pay off a balloon payment coming due, her father in law Bear has decided to log the mountain where all the butterflies are living.  After the arrival of the butterflies, it is unclear what to do. Her in laws, along with their church, wonder if God hasn't sent the butterflies to stop the Turnbows from selling the logging rights to those trees.

Her mother in law starts charging for tours of the butterflies and soon a genuine scientist turns up at her house to study the butterflies. Dr. Ovid Byron looks like no one Dellarobia's ever met. "Tall, dark, and handsome, but extra tall, extra dark. OK, extra all three." She's smitten. With the man, the science, the glimpse of other possibilities.

She finds a sitter so she can help Dr. Byron study the butterflies and soon the promising drama of Dellarobia's personal implosion is swamped by climate change research disguised as dialogue. It is in this dialogue that we get glimpses of Kingsolver’s genius. She makes you understand the characters so well. These farmers have been devastated by weather and balloon payments, and have to take extra jobs hauling gravel just to feed their families. How can they limit their access to the money they so desperately need while also protecting the butterflies?

The phenomenon of the butterflies brings an influx of the outside world. And with the influx of the outside world comes a clash between the realities of the educated activists and scientists, and the people of this community. There is a great scene in the book that really demonstrates this point. In it an activist thinks it is a good idea to have the neighbors sign a pledge to make steps in their lives to prohibit further climate change. After a few questions from his “Sustainability Pledge”, the activist realizes he lives in a different world from the Turnbows. Cutting back on red meat is not an option when all you can afford is macaroni and cheese from the dollar store. There are so many issues cleverly wrapped up in this survey and in this book. Access to education, information, opportunity, poverty, the influence of religion and TV leaders, the culture of small towns, and doing the right thing for your family have no easy answers. Nothing that can be cleaned up by a pledge.

Kingsolver tackles some incredibly large issues in this book and this is where her genius is. The book is entertaining. I found myself drawn to Dellarobia and wondering what she would do- stay in her marriage or go. But go where? What options did she have? What about her children and extended family? What about the state of the earth?  The entire time Kingslover is also commenting on the reasons it can be hard to have a level discussion about the realities of climate change. This book drew me into the lives of Dellarobia and her family while talking about something we all need to deal with, the reality of climate change.

Flight Behavior can be purchased at Mitchell's Book Corner, Nantucket Bookworks, or here.


What a great novel, combining a wonderful story with environmentalism and the best description of the working poor in America I've read.  I highly recommend this book.