“The flame now appeared to lift from individual treetops in showers of orange sparks, exploding the way a pine log does in a campfire when it’s poked. The sparks spiraled upward in swirls like funnel clouds. Twisters of brightness against gray sky. In broad daylight with no comprehension, she watched. From the tops of the funnels the sparks lifted high and sailed out undirected above the dark forest.”
A young farmer’s wife is on the way to a tryst with a lover in the woods. She sees an unusual sight, of orange and fire in the valley below, and is startled and confused. She takes it for a sign to head home.
“She was pressed by the quiet elation of escape and knowing better and seeing straight through to the back of herself, in solitude. She couldn’t remember when she’d had such room for being. This was not just another fake thing in her life’s cheap chain of events, leading up to this day of sneaking around in someone’s thrown-away boots. Here that ended. Unearthly beauty had appeared to her, a vision of glory to stop her in the road. For her alone these orange boughs lifted, these long shadows became a brightness rising. It looked like the inside of joy, if a person could see that. A valley of lights, an ethereal wind. It had to mean something.”
Dellarobia Turnbow, this ordinary woman with an unusual name, a wife (her husband is known to everyone as Cub as his father is Bear!) and mother of two young children, living in a fictional Appalachian town of Feathertown, Tennessee, is the very person who makes this important, life-changing discovery of Monarch butterflies, whose flight path has been disrupted by changing weather patterns, and have settled in the mountains owned by her husband’s family.
Soon some scientists arrive, one in particular, Ovid Byron, interests Dellarobia:
“Tall, dark, and handsome, but extra tall, extra dark. Okay, extra all three. He was so many things, this Mr Buron, that he constituted something of an audience, driving her to invent a performance on the spot.”
He recognises her intelligence and determination, and hires her to help with his project, studying the Monarch’s unusual location when they were supposed to gather in Mexico.
While there is a large, engulfing topic up for discussion, and as the scientists and tourists, media and protestors settle in, Dellarobia’s life goes on. And Kingsolver lovingly details these everyday lives with her absorbing prose.
“But being a stay-at-home mom was the loneliest kind of lonely, in which she was always and never by herself. Days and days, hours and hours within them, and days within weeks, at the end of which she might not ever have gotten completely dressed or read any word longer than Chex, any word not ending in -os, or formed a sentence or brushed her teeth or left a single footprint outside the house. Just motherhood, with its routine costs of providing a largesse that outstripped her physical dimensions.”
At first I was not sure that I would like Dellarobia, this frustrated woman looking for an escape from her mundane life, but she is smart, and funny, and has fallen into this life of hers after a teenaged mistake. She has the company of a Thelma and Louise kind of best friend in Dovey, single and with more spending money, who loves to text her on Sunday mornings with one-liners she collects from church marquees: “Come ye fishers of men, you catch, God will clean”. And her kids, astute kindergartener Preston and cute as a button Cordelia.
I enjoyed reading of Dellarobia’s rural life, her small world. And the contrast of her life with that of the scientists, not just Ovid but of the various grad students and volunteers whose paths she crosses. As well as my own life, having spent most of it in the city-state of Singapore, where there isn’t really such a thing as ‘rural’.
Flight Behaviour is undoubtedly a book, albeit a fictional piece, about climate change. But its rural/lower-class perspective is unique. One of my favourite moments was when Dellarobia read an organisation’s ‘Sustainability Pledge’, a list of things that one could promise to do to lower carbon footprint. Such as bringing one’s own Tupperware to a restaurant for leftovers, when she had not eaten out at a restaurant in two years. Or recycling old computers and turning off monitors when not in use, when she doesn’t have a computer.
“Try to reduce the intake of red meat in your diet.”
“Are you crazy? I’m trying to increase our intake of red meat.”
“Why is that?”
“Because mac and cheese only gets you so far, is why. We have lamb, we produce that one our farm. But I don’t have a freezer. I have to get it from my in-laws.”
I read this book pretty much as soon as it arrived in the mail, way way before my tour stop date today, and as I reread parts of it to refresh my memory for this post, I was wowed once again by Kingsolver’s writing:
“She watched wonder and light come into her daughter’s eyes. Preston stood with the toes of his sneakers at the very edge of the gravel road and his arms outstretched, as if he might take flight. Dellarobia felt the same; the sight of all this never wore out. The trees were covered with butterflies at rest, and the air was filled with life. She inhaled the scent of the trees. Finally a clear winter day, blue dome, dark green firs, and all the space between filled with fluttering gold flakes, like a snow globe. She could see they were finding lift here and there, upwelling over the trees. Millions of monarchs, orange confetti, winked light into their eyes.”
An unforgettable read.
Barbara Kingsolver’s work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has earned a devoted readership at home and abroad. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal, our country’s highest honor for service through the arts. She received the 2011 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for the body of her work, and in 2010 won Britain’s Orange Prize for The Lacuna. Her novel The Poisonwood Bible was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Before she made her living as a writer, Kingsolver earned degrees in biology and worked as a scientist. She lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia.
The Bean Trees
Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983
Homeland and Other Stories
Pigs in Heaven
High Tide in Tucson
The Poisonwood Bible
Small Wonder: Essays
Last Stand: America’s Virgin Lands
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Tuesday, June 4th: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, June 5th: 50 Books Project
Monday, June 10th: Love at First Book
Tuesday, June 11th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, June 13th: she treads softly
Friday, June 14th: I Read a Book Once
Monday, June 17th: Suko’s Notebook
Tuesday, June 18th: Mom in Love With Fiction
Thursday, June 20th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, June 20th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Monday, June 24th: Amused By Books
Tuesday, June 25th: Joyfully Retired
Wednesday, June 26th: Wordsmithonia
Thursday, June 27th: Conceptual Reception
Monday, July 1st: Giraffe Days
Tuesday, July 2nd: The Well-Read Redhead
Wednesday, July 3rd: Dreaming in Books
Monday, July 8th: Peppermint PhD
Wednesday, July 10th: nomadreader
Thursday, July 11th: Olduvai Reads
TBD: Oh! Paper Pages