Tired of living on a failing farm and suffering oppressive poverty, bored housewife Dellarobia Turnbow, on the way to meet a potential lover, is detoured by a miraculous event on the Appalachian mountainside that ignites a media and religious firestorm that changes her life forever.
Flight Behavior is set in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee where Dellrobia Turnbow, a teenage bride come rural farm wife, discovers a spectacular migration of Monarch butterflies. Unfortunately, it is global warming, a “sickness of nature,” which has caused the Monarchs to deviate to Tennessee from their usual winter home in Mexico. The Turnbow farm is soon home to world-class scientists studying the phenomenon of the Monarchs. Dellarobia finds herself immersed in a world of knowledge, information, and learning, associating with persons well-educated and well-travelled. The experience prompts her to reflect on the “bleak helplessness” with which she views her life’s circumstances. While she loves both husband and children, her simple farm life is a far cry from the college education and professional career she aspired to. Intensely unhappy, she has gone so far as to exhibit “flight behaviour” of her own, but none of her forays have amounted to more than undignified obsessions. Now the Monarchs have opened a new world to her. As their very existence is endangered by the threat of cold in the Appalachians, Dellarobia is jarred out of herself and into the enormity of new opportunity. Will it be the impetus for positive change?
”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.” (Ch 1)
Kingsolver is an excellent writer and a fine storyteller. Her characters here are masterfully developed as is her sense of small, rural Tennessee. Certainly Flight Behavior is ambitious, touching on, as it does, global warming, education, media bias, poverty, and relationships. Recommended.
Barbara Kingsolver’s newest novel explores the impact of global warming and the divide between science and religion. Kingsolver lightens these heavy themes with warm hearted, genuine characters and a finely wrought sense of humor balanced by poignancy. Dellarobia is an insightful, smart woman who has been denied an education. She loves her kids. She grapples with her faith. She longs for a life of beauty and meaning. She is one of those characters who a reader can get behind even though she is far from perfect.
Kingsolver lays down a dilemma for Dellarobia: Should she stay in her life and make it work, or should she take flight? Her journey is symbolized by that of the butterflies – insects who migrate thousands of miles even though they have never been shown the way. What choices do we have when faced with potential catastrophe and the unknown? How do we determine truth? What factors influence our decisions and beliefs?
I am a huge Kingsolver fan. I love her beautiful prose, her complex characters, her sense of humor, and the relevancy of her themes. I expected to love this book, and it did not disappoint me. Critics of the global warming argument may be put off by the underlying message regarding the dire nature of environmental change, but no one can fault Kingsolver’s imagination and ability to bring to life a set of characters facing one of the most controversial topics facing this generation. It is her skill at character development against the backdrop of nature where Kingsolver shines, and in Dellarobia, she has given her readers a character who is truly memorable.
Just like Dellarobia, many of the supporting characters in the book were genuine and interesting too. The scientist who comes to study the butterflies, Dellarobia's best friend Dovey, Dellarobia's son Preston, and even her toddler daughter Cordelia came to life on the page and rarely struck a false note. The problems that sprang from engagemental changes were similar enough to those that we've already seen occurring in the world to be believable, while also being frightening because they are the next step down a slippery slope. As always, Kingsolver wraps the story in beautiful language, creating pictures on the page that will stay in my mind long after I shelve this volume in the Kingsolver section of my favorite books.
My first Kingsolver read was The Bean Trees, which centers around a girl desperate to get out of her small, hick town where most of the girls are pregnant before they even leave high school. She wants to be one of the ones to leave and never come back. Through some odd circumstances, she finds herself stuck raising a baby that's not hers, sort of falling into motherhood. The plot itself didn't have much appeal for me as a reader, but the book was utterly compelling and I loved it so much. Kingsolver's powerful writing and intriguing, quirky characters pulled me in despite myself.
In Flight Behavior, Kingsolver again focuses on a heroine who had dreams of escaping her hick town, but this one didn't make it. Dellarobia hoped to go to college, but wound up pregnant instead. Even worse, the baby boy died, leaving her stuck in a marriage with a man she doesn't respect and reliant on judgmental in-laws. Her unhappiness manifests itself in a wandering eye; she has had a number of crushes on men, flirted with the idea of an affair. The hook of the novel is when Dellarobia heads up the mountain to meet with one of her men and cheat on her husband. On her way, she sees the forest burning with butterflies, and interprets that as a sign from God that she needs to go back to her life and make good.
Dellarobia's life certainly is unfortunate, and it's such a shame that her promise was wasted on this small town, where kids only take two years of rudimentary math in school. Even the bright ones aren't given enough education to be able to get out of town. I feel for her, but I didn't connect with her or any of the other characters. In all of Kingsolver's previous works, I was held rapt in unfamiliar worlds by the power of the characters and the writing, but these characters simply failed to grab onto my heart and take hold.
Another problem too is that, while the writing is beautiful as always (and shows that you can not write in dialect but still achieve a southern feel), the story feels a bit like a combination of two of the Kingsolver books I'd previously read: The Bean Trees and Prodigal Summer. Revisiting old themes, while not what I know Kingsolver for, can be done well, but, in this case, it felt repetitive and less well done.
Flight Behavior feels like it was written not so much for the characters as to be the vehicle for a message: global warming is real and it's not just about changing temperatures. Now, of course, it's alright for books to have a moral, a message, but I don't like to feel like I'm being beat over the head with it or being talked down to.
The butterflies Dellarobia witnessed normally wintered in Mexico, but moved to her small town because of environmental changes and now the whole population of Monarch butterflies could be in danger of extinction. A lepidopterist comes to study them, and works with and teaches Dellarobia, highlighting her boredom with her husband and her desire for something bigger. Because of her rudimentary education, the reader receives both the scientific explanations for everything and the 'country' version, a cute little metaphor for everything that's happening. This felt a bit insulting to me, as though this setting was chosen to allow for global warming to be explained in a simplified way that the stupid disbelievers could fathom. Prodigal Summer also dealt with the importance of taking care of the environment, but did not make me feel so lectured.
Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, but I'm disappointed to have not enjoyed a book by one of my favorite authors. Her writing is still gorgeous, but the book is massive, slow, and filled with a lot of minutiae about Dellarobia's life I could have done without. Surely others will appreciate this one (most of the reviews on Goodreads are highly flattering and NPR approves), but it fell flat with me.
Yes...butterflies may be what Dellarobia needed to change her boring farm life into something more exciting and something more inclined to her intelligence.
The book had deep meanings but to me I was seeing the surface of the book which focused on Dellarobia's life. The reader will follow Dellarobia through her daily life, her financial struggles, and the unpleasant living conditions she had. She had to live on her in-laws' farm and deal with her critical mother-in-law.
You will feel sorry for Dellarobia and will keep hoping something good will come out of the uproar the butterflies caused on the farm. Dellarobia is an endearing character you will want to talk to, try to help, and wish you could actually meet. Her mother-in-law was someone you wouldn’t want to meet. Her husband was indifferent about everything, and her children were sweet.
FLIGHT BEHAVIOR is an excellent read even though it took a few pages to get you hooked. The characters are what carried the book instead of the storyline. Characters who had a connection to each other but in reality were disconnected and made the book unique. Ms. Kingsolver's masterful writing and detailed descriptions will take you away and pull you right in.
Science buffs will thoroughly enjoy the butterfly research as well as Ovid, the head scientist. Overall the book was enjoyable, enlightening, and one that will make you think about your family, your life, your contribution to the world as a person, and how to improve yourself as well as the small part of the world that you inhabit. 4/5
This book was given to me free of charge and without compensation in return for an honest review. I picked up this book at the Bea in June of 2013.
Flight Behavior's protagonist is
This is one of those books that I read faster than I wanted to - I couldn't put it down, but I really wanted to linger with the characters. Dellarobia was a complex and appealing protagonist, and I empathized with her struggles. Kingsolver's descriptions of the natural world were gorgeous. I loved her use of everyday detail - a trip to the dollar store, for instance - to round out her characters. Very occasionally Kingsolver was too obtrusive with the climate change information, but mostly she weaved the political and personal expertly and created a very moving story.
But I was also apprehensive. Although I love Kingsolver’s prose and greatly admire her courage in writing fiction that tackles important subjects, I sometimes feel “preached at” when I read her more recent novels, starting with PRODIGAL SUMMER. I accept that I’m probably more sensitive than most readers to this authorial intrusion. I am so aware of that risk in my own writing and work so hard to banish the lecturing voice.
The opening paragraphs of FLIGHT BEHAVIOR captivated me. A bored young wife and mother is en route up the mountain to “throw away her life” through adultery when she sees a Tennessee mountain version of a burning bush and reconsiders. Dellarobia is a compelling character; she is smart and self-aware, deeply entrenched in her family and her culture but thoughtful and critical of it. Her response to what she sees on the mountain trigger a cascade of events that bring national attention to her Appalachian community and change her life. Once again, Kingsolver uses her scientific training and considerable descriptive abilities to engage the reader with a critical socio-political issue.
My apprehension, however, was also valid. Kingsolver chooses to lecture the reader, though her characters, in large and small ways throughout the narrative. Most of the time, I could let these literary skewers pass with just a sigh, but occasionally they jarred me from the story. Even so, this novel with its perfect pacing, nuanced characters, and beautifully articulated yearnings is one of the most satisfying books I’ve read in a long time.
Flight Behavior is a novel I wanted to love more than I did. The predictability factor was too high for enjoyment. Even worse, the novel felt like one giant harangue against those who do not believe in the environmental impact of global warming or in global warming in general. Had the story had some element of fact in it, one might find it more interesting, but the author’s note leaves no doubt that the aberrant migrant paths of the monarch butterflies described in the novel are purely fictional. One cannot help feeling slightly duped not only because the descriptions of the perils of the butterflies is so realistically described but also because there is so much more actual devastation happening to natural habitats that are not fiction and upon which Ms. Kingsolver could have drawn to lend a greater air of legitimacy to her arguments. Instead, it feels like she only confirms the complaints against those who remain unconvinced about global warming due to conflicting media and scientific reports.
As for Dellarobia’s personal growth, it too felt more like a warning to readers than the life-altering inspiration Ms. Kingsolver obviously intends. Dellarobia is very self-aware, which is great. Yet, her self-awareness is too bitter and despondent and makes the reader uncomfortable. It is difficult to understand and to explain why Dellarobia is so unhappy or feels the need to leave her husband, as her reasons for doing so are rather unconvincing. She is unhappy being tied to the house without a job but is able to obtain a paying job that allows her financial and personal freedom. She feels stifled intellectually, and yet her job provides her with the necessary intellectual stimuli that she so desperately wants and needs. She says she is suffocating in her marriage but does she ever try to share her concerns with her husband of so many years? It is this almost selfish behavior that causes Dellarobia to be largely unsympathetic.
Unfortunately, those readers looking to repeat the magic that is The Poisonwood Bible are going to be disappointed with Flight Behavior. All of the characters are flat caricatures that are too familiar to be fresh or exciting. Dellarobia is too selfish to be enjoyable, and the ecological portions of the story are tainted by the fact that they are fictionalized. While the story is going to be popular purely because of Ms. Kingsolver’s previous successes, it leaves at least this reader feeling dissatisfied at the opportunities for greatness that were lost.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Danielle Plafsky from HarperCollins for my review copy!
The answer soon becomes clear: climate change as a result of global warming. The butterflies’ Mexican home has been destroyed by flooding exacerbated by deforestation. Initially, Dellarobia is not a believer in climate change; gradually, however, she changes her mind as evidence is presented to her. Unfortunately others in the community are not so open-minded; her father-in-law, for example, wants to log the mountain which the butterflies have chosen for their winter home. The blindness of climate change deniers is addressed strongly by Ovid: “’What scientists disagree on now . . . is how to express our shock. The glaciers that keep Asia’s watersheds in business are going right away. . . . The Arctic is genuinely collapsing. Scientists used to call these things the canary in the mine. What they say now is, The canary is dead. We are at the top of Niagara Falls . . . in a canoe. . . . We got here by drifting, but we cannot turn around for a lazy paddle back when you finally stop pissing around. We have arrived at the point of an audible roar. Does it strike you as a good time to debate the existence of the falls?’’’ (367)
The serious social message is expertly intertwined with a personal story. Dellarobia is unhappy and frustrated with her life. She feels trapped in her marriage to Cub, a dim-witted, unimaginative, passive man overshadowed by his parents. Though he is decent, good-hearted, and well-meaning, he cannot provide her with an escape from their economically and intellectually impoverished life. Working for Ovid serves as an awakening for Dellarobia. She gains self-confidence as her horizons expand and decides to seek personal fulfillment, searching, like the butterflies, for the place where she belongs. Obviously she metamorphoses from caterpillar to butterfly, although at the end she, again like the butterflies, is faced with an uncertain future.
There are many Biblical allusions in the novel. Dellarobia sees a flaming forest, like Moses saw a burning bush. References to Noah’s flood appear more than once. I foresee students of English literature writing essays analyzing Kingsolver’s use of Biblical allusions to add depth to her novel.
This is literary fiction at its best; it combines an interesting plot and a dynamic protagonist with an urgent message: the world is a “mess made by undisciplined humans” (25) who must stop behaving like “ignorant little dumb-heads” (41) or “the world [will] fall down around them” (25).
The writing is beautiful, the characters are believable, and it is an absorbing multi-layered story.
The gist of the story is this: a mom is restless in her marriage, and is thinking about hooking up with a man she’d flirted with, but when she goes walking into to hills behind her house to meet up with him she stumbles upon something so beautiful and unusual that it stops her from the tryst. When she shares her discovery, it takes over her family and community and soon word leaks out to the world. There is family drama, nature, climate change, science, biology and the meaning of love thrown into to this mix. I listened to Flight Behavior through Audible.com and I’m rating it 4 stars for the storyline.
But Kingsolver tackles a very serious issue in Flight Behavior: climate change, and the real-life destruction of the wintering nesting grounds of North America’s Monarch butterfly population in 2010. That she peoples this drama with the melodramatically named Dellarobia who makes a series of decisions that alienated her from this reader does not lesson the importance of that main issue, or for that matter, the beauty of her writing.
For concrete (albeit fictionally set) consequences of a complex issue, you could do far worse than this book.
Read this if: you don’t think climate is really changing our world; you recognize that climate change is real and would like great party talking-points on the subject; or you’re a Kingsolver fan. 4 stars
loved her best friend Davey's reality check on everything .
Its strengths are a breezy, wise-cracking
Still, it's a thought-provoking book that would be great for book groups.