“A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture.”
So begins Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel, Flight Behavior, in which the restless young mother Dellarobia Turnbow is en route to self-destruction in the form of an extramarital affair when she is stopped dead in her tracks by a magnificent sight she can only describe as a shimmering, silent “lake of fire.” Convinced that the phenomenon is some kind of divine intervention, Dellarobia resolves to return down the mountain and resume her normal life—which includes two young children; a dopey but well-meaning husband; emotionally distant, God-fearing parent-in-laws on whose land they all live; and her whippersnapper best friend named Dovey. When Dellarobia’s discovery becomes international news, though, the public transforms her into a prophet while her once self-contained home becomes an epicenter of activity for scientists, journalists and tourists alike. With people lining up on her doorstep to witness and offer their two cents on the miracle that has, inexplicably, materialized on the Turnbows’ land, Dellarobia is thrown into a whirlwind of duplicitous media, small town tensions and well-kept family secrets. In the midst of it all, she is forced to confront the dashed dreams of another life—the one she had planned for herself before getting pregnant at seventeen—and decide whether to fight or take flight.
What really makes this novel stick out—in addition to its larger than life themes of religion VS science, man VS nature—is the skill with which Kingsolver yields words. For anyone who has read her much beloved Poisonwood Bible, this is not news. Likewise, readers of her non-fiction book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, in which her and her family vow to consume only locally produced foods for one whole year, will not be surprised by the way in which she is able to convey science in such clear, comprehensible terms—due in large part to having earned a degree in biology and previously worked as a scientist herself. In Flight Behavior, these abilities culminate to produce a work that is extremely relevant to and important for our world right now, as global warming continues to envelop the planet. At times it can be a troubling read, often exposing those small truths of our existence that are easier to ignore, but that again is only testament to the power of Kingsolver’s prose. Like Dellarobia, she seems to say, we are throwing our good lives away without any thought to the catastrophic consequences of our temporarily rapturous actions.
I recommend this book for any pre-existing fans of Kingsolver, readers who gravitate towards strong female protagonists, as well as anyone who is interested in the environment and wants to learn more about the devastating effects of climate change.
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