Prodigal Summer

by Barbara Kingsolver

Hardcover, 2000

Call number




HarperCollins (2000), Edition: 1st, 464 pages


Barbara Kingsolver's fifth novel is a hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature, and of nature itself. It weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives amid the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia. Over the course of one humid summer, this novel's intriguing protagonists face disparate predicaments but find connections to one another and to the flora and fauna with which they necessarily share a place.

Media reviews

Readers hoping for the emotional intensity and wide-angle vision of ''The Poisonwood Bible,'' Kingsolver's magnificent 1998 epic about a self-destructing missionary family in the newly independent Congo, will most likely be disappointed. But the legions of fans primed on earlier books like ''Animal
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Dreams'' and ''The Bean Trees'' will find themselves back on familiar, well-cleared ground of plucky heroines, liberal politics and vivid descriptions of the natural world.
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In an improbably appealing book with the feeling of a nice stay inside a terrarium, Ms. Kingsolver means to illustrate the nature of biological destiny and provide enlightened discourse on various ecological matters.

User reviews

LibraryThing member fyrefly98
Summary: Prodigal Summer is an interweaving of three storylines, all taking place during the course of one summer in and around Egg Fork, Tennessee. In the chapters entitled "Predators", Deanna Wolf, forest ranger and wildlife biologist lives alone in a small cabin in the National Forest, watching
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the changes wrought in the ecosystem by the return of a predator - the coyote. When she meets Eddie Bondo, a young rancher who hunts coyotes for sport, they are powerfully physically drawn together, despite the ideological differences that threaten to tear them apart. In "Moth Love", newly-married and newly-widowed city girl Lusa is left alone on her husband's family farm, surrounded by unfamiliar and hostile in-laws, and facing the prospect of carving out a place for herself in farming and in her new family. In "Old Chestnuts", Garnett Walker, a retired agriculture teacher whose pet project is the cultivation of a blight-resistant American Chestnut tree, butts heads with his free-spirited and utterly confounding neighbor, Nannie Rawley. Though initially seeming quite disparate, these three stories slowly reveal their connections, ultimately resulting in a vibrant tapestry rich with luna moths and magnolia warblers, coyotes and chestnut trees, life and death and humor and love and place and home and belonging.

Review: Prodigal Summer has been called Barbara Kingsolver's "sex book," both disparagingly and with affection. There certainly are a few "on-camera" sex scenes, although they're not written particularly graphically - Kingsolver herself has said while the themes of sex and fecundity are central to the novel, perhaps the most graphic sex scene is a dream sequence between a woman and a giant moth. However, to call it her "sex book" is to dismiss it too easily, and to overlook what I think is the point of the story. It's only about sex insomuch as everything in life is about sex - the struggle of each individual to pass on their genes, and leave something of themselves to the next generation. Calling it her "biology book" would be better (more on that in a minute), but the main theme of this book isn't sex, or biology - it's interconnection. This is most immediately apparent in the interlacing of the three storylines, which seem totally unrelated at first, but slowly yield up their connections, both major and minor, revealing the infinite number of tiny but not insubstantial ways that each of us touch the lives around us. But more than just personal interconnection, it also speaks to the connection of people to their environment, of the threads that bind us to the non-human lives around us - and of them to each other - resulting in a world that is a shining mass of sparkling threads of connection, where each life - moth, tree, or human - affects every other, and each life matters.

The ultimate result of this finely-drawn sense of connection is that Zebulon County emerges as a place with a sense of Place; essentially another character in its own right. I first read Prodigal Summer in the spring of 2002, long before I'd ever been to Appalachia, but Egg Fork and the surrounding mountains were more real to me than any place I'd encountered in a novel before. Now, six years and several summers of working in the southern Appalachian mountains later, I can say that Kingsolver absolutely gets it right. The forest, the small town, the farms, the people, the animals, the mountains - it's all there, vividly drawn, and pulsing with Life. Her characters are similarly real; by the end of the book you feel like you've known these people your whole life - not people like them, but them. Even with only a third as much space per story as in a traditional novel, Kingsolver still manages to draw complex, multi-layered, and lovably flawed people who feel as though you would recognize them walking down the street.

I will admit that I was predisposed to like this book - Kingsolver has a degree in biology (my own field), and was a science writer before becoming a full-time author. You can see the traces of this in all of her books, but nowhere is it brought to the fore like in Prodigal Summer. At the same time, the biology isn't blatant - it simultaneously motivates the stories without overshadowing them. Subtle points about ecology, evolution, and natural history are woven into the the overall framework, complementing and informing rather than detracting from the human drama.

I said that this is the book that made me love Kingsolver as a writer, but I'd like to do that one better. This is the book that makes me want to be a writer; this is the book I wish I could have written. I've read it enough times that I know some passages and bits of dialogue and turns of phrase by heart, but every time I read it, I'm left in awe of her powers of story construction and character development. Every time I read it, I'm left with a renewed sense of wonder in the the power of Life, and a renewed appreciation for what a miraculous, sacred place and community we are all a part of. 5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Highly, highly recommended, obviously.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
"People in Appalachia insisted that the mountains breathed, and it was true: the steep hollow behind the farmhouse took up one long, slow inhalation every morning and let it back down through their open windows and across the fields throughout evening – just one full, deep breath each day."
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Prodigal Summer is narrated in three strands, alternately titled “The Predators,” “Moth Love,” and “Old Chestnuts.” Each of the strands has as its central character a strong, environmentally conscious woman. Deanna Wolfe, in her late 40s, is a government-employed forest ranger who has lived solitarily on Zebulon Mountain for several years. A graduate thesis on coyotes to her credit, she is passionate about protecting the predators. When she meets young Eddie Bondo hiking on the mountain, their points of view, as well as the delineation of predator/prey collide. Lusa Landowski, early thirties, is an entomologist from Lexington who left her lab behind to marry Cole Widener and move to his family’s farm in Egg Fork, Zebulon County. An introvert by nature, and an authority on Luna moths, she will find herself a fish out of water as she tries to find her place in a large extended family in a small farming community. Finally, elderly Nannie Rawley, an organic orchardist, conspicuous to say the least amongst her backwoods neighbours, proves herself a savvy businesswoman in finding a lucrative market for her fruit. That said, her continued success will depend on whether she can keep her cantankerous, even more elderly neighbour, Garnett Walker, from destroying her efforts with pesticides.

What I Liked: I’ve come to expect a well-written story featuring an outstanding sense of place in Kingsolver’s works, and she does not disappoint here. The tapestry of mountains and farms in southern Appalachia are beautifully written. My favourite character is Nannie Rawley, old enough to understand that life doesn’t always go one’s way, and that sometimes there is no just answer – and wise enough to know exactly how to keep one Garnett Walker firmly in his place.

What I Didn’t Like: I found that the novel’s environmental message often came across as sanctimony, a shortcoming I personally find very grating – in fact, I lowered the novel’s rating by a half-star on account of it. In the same vein, I occasionally found the two younger female characters, Deanna and Lusa, a little ecologically-fanatic.

Recommended: In general, for fans of well-written fiction set in Appalachia; and for readers interested in human relationships with nature. More particularly, for Kingsolver fans (although it likely won’t read as one of her best) and dedicated environmentalists.
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LibraryThing member readingrat
I really have mixed feelings about this book. Taken individually I really enjoyed the stories of Deanna, Lusa, and Nannie Rawley. I also enjoyed how the three individual threads eventually wove into an inter-related tapestry at the end. However throughout the narrative I kept getting the feeling
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that this book was being used by the author as simply an ecological soapbox. All three women characters, at some point in their stories, fully used their opportunity to expound at length on the evils of pesticides, killing predators, and other questionable modern-day farming/ranching techniques. While I do agree with the message, I would have preferred to have that message derived from flow of the story instead of having it forced on the reader in a series of repetitive monologues. This also tended to give all three women characters a common voice which ultimately had the effect of blurring the uniqueness of each individual character and making them largely interchangeable.
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LibraryThing member PghDragonMan
Prodigal Summer is a rather dense story from the mind of Barbra Kingsolver. It took a long time to see how the three interwoven stories would all fit together. While reading it, at various times I was not sure what I was reading. I almost felt as if this were a rambling collection of stories about
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ecology, wildlife preservation, families coping with crises and smart women making bad life choices.

If you start this book, stay with it. The payoff is worthwhile. Kingsolver is a great storyteller, she just needs to lay a lot of groundwork out before really getting into the main story. Make time for this book as it is a long read and it is one you won’t want to put down once you get into it.
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LibraryThing member jtho
Just lovely. Three stories are followed. First, Deanna's love for nature overwhelms her tolerance for humanity, so she lives as a park warden on a mountainside, away from human contact. We learn what happens when her peace is disturbed as a young man stumbles upon her home. Next, we watch Lusa as
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she tries to figure out life as a new widow living far from home on her husband's family's farm. Finally, cantankerous old man Garnet Walker starts to confront the reasons he's always feuded with his next door neighbour.

The mountain, the plants, and the animals are just as much characters in this novel as Deanna, Lusa and Garnet. The language is poetic and the scenes set are beautiful and rich. Each of the stories kept me interested; I was disappointed at the end of each chapter as I had to leave those characters behind, but my disappointment soon faded as I was quickly caught up in the next story. Of course, all three stories or their characters are tied together at the end, but more loosely than you might expect.

If you liked The Poisonwood Bible, you'll like this one, too, and vice versa. Really enjoyable read, and I also learned a few things about ecology, too.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
One of my favorite authors does it again.
Barbara Kingsolver never disappoints, and even though I know I'm going to love her books, they still amaze me when I pick them up.
This novel intertwines three story lines of life and love in the rich natural environment of Southern Appalachia during one
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"rashly extravagant" summer.
This is quite possibly the most sensous (and sexual) thing I've read in years. Lady Chatterley, stand aside. Here we have Deanna, a Forest Service wildlife monitor who can't quite decide what her last name should be, because she was divorced a few years ago; who hasn't cut her hair since forever; who hopes against all sense that the coyotes have come back into her valley; and who finds herself entangled (quite literally) with a breathtaking fellow named Eddie Bondo, who may or may not be there to hunt and kill those elusive canids.

Kingsolver celebrates the physical side of life, and the power of the feminine, embedding a good deal of scientific information about mammalian and insect life into the narratives, skilfully giving us natural history lessons while engrossing us in the lives and predicaments of three sets of characters who we realize will eventually become part of one larger story. Beautifully written.
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
Prior to reading this book I had probably only thought of the meaning of prodigal as it was used in the Bible story about the prodigal son. I actually had to look up the meaning in my dictionary where it had three meanings: 1. characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure 2. recklessly
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spendthrift 3. yielding abundantly. It is this third meaning that I think Kingsolver explores in this book. Other words could probably have been used (bountiful, luxuriant) but prodigal has a nice old-fashioned ring to it and that sort of fits with the plot of this book.

There are three main characters in this book. Deanna Wolfe is an employee of the Forest Services on Zebulon Mountain in the heart of Appalachia. She is 48 years old, divorced and very knowledgeable about the natural life on the mountain. Lusa only recently came to the Zebulon Valley as the wife of a farmer, Cole Widener. Before that she worked as an entomologist in Lexington. Garnett Walker is an octogenarian who has lived in Zebulon County his whole life just as his forefathers did. He taught school when he was younger because the family timber enterprise failed when the chestnuts all died from a foreign disease. Now he tries to breed chestnut trees that are resistant to the disease. He also feuds with his nearest neighbour, Nannie Rawley. The chapters rotate from person to person. At first it seems like they have nothing in common but it becomes apparent that, like nature, every life is interconnected. The summer proceeds with rain every few days and all the plants grow with abandon. Animal life, including the humans, also prosper for the most part. Deanna is particularly excited that a den of coyotes have taken up residence on her mountain. She is determined to keep them safe from hunters, including the man from Montana who shows up one day and is soon sharing her cabin and her bed. By the end of the summer, everyone's life has changed materially.

I thought Kingsolver was a little heavy-handed in giving her ecology lessons but, other than that, this was a lovely book. Zebulon Mountain is fictitious but Appalachia is real and seems like it would be an interesting place to explore.
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LibraryThing member LukeS
This is a lovely tale of interweaving narratives, taking place in an Appalachian wilderness. Kingsolver's themes are survival of loss, the cycle of fertility, wildlife management - and the author deals with these themes in a lush, vivid, gratifying way. She brings quite a bit of expertise to the
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technical side, and truckloads of wisdom and compassion to the human side.
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LibraryThing member hayleyscomet
I'm an ecologist--the perfect audience for this novel. (Or almost-perfect, because I've already heard the "lessons" Kingsolver tries to teach.) And yet, I didn't love it nearly as much as I'd hoped for. Three plot lines interwove throughout--and rather beautifully, actually, with just barely enough
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tying-together at the end to make it cohesive, which I liked. "Moth Love," about a young, recent widowed entomologist attempting to somehow fit into a farming family, was the strongest plot line for me. But there were still times when Lusa became aggravating, when she turned every conversation back onto herself. (Oh, you're dying of cancer? Well, let me tell you how I feel--my husband died and no one else in the family likes me...) This was also the plot line where the ecological themes were the most subtle, and there were beautiful metaphors and imagery, of insects and invasive plants.

I also liked "Old Chestnuts," about an old crusty farmer getting aggravated at his neighbor's organic practices, but although I was often amused I always wondered whether Kingsolver had taken the stereotype of a set-in-his-ways farmer a little too far. Is this just the way we conservationists think of farmers? They're comic relief characters who need to simultaneously learn lessons about the use of pesticides and what it means to love? I wavered between really liking and really hating (and hating myself for liking) these sections.

"Predators" was the weakest for me. Deanna lives isolated in a cabin in the woods as a park ranger, and has her groceries delivered to her once a month. She's close enough to town that she can see it from the mountain and can chase away hunters who make the daytrip up, but not close enough to actually get her own groceries? Really? Because I'm pretty sure there is no position in any sort of park service where that would be a thing. Even positions that require rangers go way further into the wilderness actually have them coming back to civilization now and again. Kingsolver also bashes you over the head with ecological principles in this one--there are a couple good moments, but mostly we hear over and over how great predators are. Deanna seems like she's many middle-aged women's fantasy persona: living alone in a cabin isolated from civilization, sleeping with a hot young dude who appears out of nowhere, and getting what she absolutely desires most deep down out of the relationship without needing him to stick around for any sort of commitment. There's just no nuance here.
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LibraryThing member Sean191
Prodigal Summer is the first Kingsolver book I've read and I don't think it will be the last.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. It had enough environmental preaching in it for me to appreciate it, but not so much that someone not as into that would be turned off. Even though it was a novel, it was really
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like three short stories broken up by each other, as the chapters alternated between three different stories that were slightly woven together, but really could have stood on their own if needed.

The character stories were different enough that I found myself eagerly awaiting getting past two chapters to get back to the storyline concerning my favorite (a cranky old widower).

Kingsolver is a talented writer and her characters are well-developed and the reader might even learn a little too!

And yet another book that lets me know how much we're missing when we lost American Chestnut trees.
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LibraryThing member GretchenCraig
A lovely book. The two women characters live close with all things natural, coyotes and insects in particular. The book has three strands, alternating chapters focused on one of three characters, the two women and a man nearing the end of his life. I tend to invest myself strongly in characters,
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and leaving the first woman on her mountain to explore the new strands was wrenching, but eventually I became interested in strands two and three as well. The many passages about trees or animals or insects are interesting and informative and for the most part, I enjoyed them. Here and there, though, I thought the green-message was a little heavy-handed and preachy. Still, the woman living on the mountain is a character and a story I'll always remember.
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LibraryThing member goldiebear
I started out really liking this book and then about 3/4 of the way through I was just done with it. I lost all interest in the stories. I didn't care anymore. It was interesting at first, but then I just got bored with the story line. I can't say exactly why. I usually LOVE Kingsolver... but this
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one just didn't do it for me. Deanna's story was the most interesting, though I didn't like her character at all. She was too rough for me. The environmental preaching was okay at first, then I found myself just glazing over it and not reading at all wondering what would happen next.... and it took forever.
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LibraryThing member LGCullens
This is a noteworthy book that exemplifies accomplished writing, interleaving the natural world with the more immediate human bubble, depicting conflicting proclivities through contrasting characters, even contradictions in individual thinking. Also in showing how alike all life forms are,
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differing for the most part only morphologically in niche adaptation with varying subjective perspectives.

An example of contradictory thinking depicted is one of the characters believing wholeheartedly in 'Creation Science,' yet trying to improve the disease resistance of a tree species through successive artificial selection — the same technique Nature employs through evolution. 'Survival of the fittest' has nothing to do with with brutishness, and everything to do with adaptability.

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." ~ Mark Twain

There is more to the story to be sure, with characters fleshed out realistically, some even exhibiting a bit of comic relief, plot-line dots to be connected, and the absurdities, misunderstandings, and caring in extended family and neighbor relations. The essence of the story to me though, is our weedy species inability for the most part to recognize what sustains our being any more than our animal cousins do — the connectedness of all life.

Like humans, "A bird never doubts its place at the center of the universe." [from Prodigal Summer]

As an example of the plot, in the first chapter the story begins in introducing the reader to not only a main character, but also to Nature in the randiness of spring as seen through the human umwelt. It's a thread exploited further as the story progresses, spiked with joy, enmity, loss, and irony. What better way to grab the reader's interest than with hormonal enticement, the subjective issues it engenders, and accompanying pleasures and resentments. In my experience, that's the cornerstone of much of literature. I'm not complaining mind you, I'm for whatever might work to hopefully instill a better understanding of the natural world that sustains us — that for the sake of our futures.

What may annoy some in this writing are passages of character thoughts that those reading for entertainment only don't want to think about. Even these character thoughts aren't necessarily dispensed as gospel though, as they may be muddled, even contradicted, further on, leaving the reader to ponder the subjective good vs. bad aspects of the natural world that perplex us. Nature is oblivious to our considered rights and wrongs, adapting life forms in moving on, intent on balancing the paradoxical and symbiotic interactions among evolving life forms in preserving a continuum of physical life.

"The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think." ~ Edwin Schlossberg

I thought the story even handed and the ending a nice touch. I also thought the story well crafted in knowing what to leave out.

Even to those averse to the natural world being a relevant 'character' in the story though, it can be an engrossing read. Pair this book with reading other quality eco-lit, like that of Wendell Berry, Richard Powers, Edward O. Wilson, Rachel Carson, etc., and there is the potential of a heap of wisdom to be gained. It's our futures that are at stake ;-)
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LibraryThing member writestuff
She’d rushed out to the porch in her nightgown and bare feet, the hairbrush mostly an afterthought lying on her lap. She needed to listen to this: prodigal summer, the season of extravagant procreation. It could wear out everything in its path with its passionate excesses, but nothing alive with
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wings or a heart or a seed curled into itself in the ground could resist welcoming it back when it came. - from Prodigal Summer, page 51 -

Barbara Kingsolver’s lush fifth novel, Prodigal Summer, takes place over one summer in the mountains and farmlands of southern Appalachia. Three very different characters (whose lives are connected by blood, geography and nature) are explored in alternating chapters.

Deanna, a middle-aged park ranger, tracks an elusive coyote family and inadvertently crosses paths with the rugged Eddie Bondo who is many years her junior. When the relationship turns sexual, Deanna’s long nurtured isolation conflicts with her desire to create a meaningful connection with another person.

When these creatures danced above their yard at night, she and her dad called them ballerinas. But this was no ballerina. Its body was a fat, furry cone flattened on one end into a ferocious face like a tiny, angry owl’s. It glared at Deanna, seeming to know too much for an insect and, worse, seeming disdainful. She hadn’t given up her love for luna after that, but she’d never forgotten, either, how a mystery caught in the hand could lose its grace. - from Prodigal Summer, page 66 -

Lusa comes to Appalachia as an outsider married to a man whose family has long farmed the area. Her struggle to find her place in the family and come to terms with grief and loss forces her to adapt her expectations and open her heart.

Survival here would be possible if only she could fill the air with scent and dispatch the stern female ghosts in that kitchen with the sweetness of an unabashed blooming weed. - from Prodigal Summer, page 31 -

Garnett, an elderly and curmudgeonly widow, grinds his teeth in agitation over his seventy-something next door neighbor Nannie who disdains pesticides and wears shorts which indecently expose her legs. Their constant conflicts force Garnett to examine his rigid view of the world, and perhaps make way for a different perception of his feisty neighbor.

A successor to a lost fortune, Garnett had spent his life glancing away from visions of how things might have turned out differently, Nannie Rawley was the exception. How could he not dwell on her presence in his life and seek its meaning? – from Prodigal Summer, page 136 -

Kingsolver adeptly develops her characters, weaving their stories together like a colorful blanket whose beauty lies in the pattern of the whole rather than in any individual thread. The beauty of nature and the threats to its flora and fauna slip in and out of each story. For Deanna, nature has become an escape from the world, one she fiercely protects until Eddie Bondo arrives and blurs the boundaries. Lusa, whose love of moths and bugs sets her apart from her husband’s family, looks to nature as a salve to heal her broken heart. And Garnett, a man who believes in the power of chemicals, yearns to bring back the great American chestnut tree – a desire that is wrapped up in his family’s history. As their stories develop, they begin to merge and connections, sometimes surprising, are revealed.

Barbara Kingsolver is, without a doubt, a gifted writer. In Prodigal Summer she uses all her powers to create a story about love, loss, grief, and the circular nature of life. The novel is fluid and beautifully constructed; the characters deep, conflicted and complex. Despite the serious themes, Kingsolver allows for humor when she throws Nannie and Garnett together – two characters whose polar views of the world cause them to collide again and again.

By now, it is obvious that I loved this book. Kingsolver’s strength as a writer and storyteller are evident on each page. Readers who love character driven novels with beautiful writing will undoubtedly enjoy Prodigal Summer.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member HaroldTitus
I am very impressed with Barbara Kingsolver’s writing ability. After I had read the first chapter of Prodigal Summer, I said to my wife, “This writer does it all!” By “does it all” I meant depth of characterization, appealing plot development, worthy themes, thoughtful subjective
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narration, crisp dialogue, appealing sensory imagery, the use of visual detail with dialogue to provide a sense of presence, and a special knowledge of a particular subject.

Characters and Their Conflicts

Divorced from a professor husband, a strong advocate for preserving the balance of nature, a fierce defender of predators (coyotes in particular), Deanna Wolfe is a wildlife biologist working for the forest service on Zebulon Mountain, located between the states of Virginia and Kentucky. Preferring a life of isolation, having lived in a rude cabin for two years, she encounters Eddie Bondo, a 28-year old sheep rancher from Wyoming. She is attracted to him, despite being in her late forties. They initiate a sexual relationship. Her need for intimate contact so long deferred is countered by her concern about their age difference but more importantly by her belief that he has come to the mountain to hunt coyotes, a predator he particularly hates. Deanna is aware that bounty hunts in the Appalachian states are common-place. The local Mountain Empire Bounty Hunt is about to begin. She is torn by her need for him and her compulsion to protect two female coyotes and their young pups, which she has just discovered, their appearance marking the end of a lengthy absence of that species in the area.

Lusa Maluf Landowski is introduced in Chapter Two. Lusa is unhappy with her surroundings and argumentative with her husband, Cole Widener. She had been a postdoctoral assistant at the University of Kentucky specializing in the study of moths. Her father, also connected with the university, had been studying the pheromones of codling moths, “notorious pests of apple trees.” Their research findings were accessible to objective-minded regional farmers. Cole Widener had been sent to the university by Zebulon Valley farmers to attend a workshop on integrated pest management. Lusa had spoken about gelechid moths, “denizens of a grain crop in storage.” Very quickly they had become intimate and he had proposed. Moving onto the Widener family property that Cole had inherited from his father, they had begun an existence that Lusa had found culturally and intellectually stagnant and socially distressing. Foremost of her concerns was that Cole’s five sisters were hostile to her. She was an outsider, “from the other side of the mountains, from Lexington.” They resented her. Cole, the male heir of the family, had inherited most of the 60 acres of Widener farmland. The sisters, and their husbands, lived on one-acre parcels that Cole’s father had willed them. Lusa resented their treatment of her, and she disapproved of the valley residents’ use of pesticides and chemical defoliants and their killing of wild animals. “I’m sorry,” she tells Cole, “my education didn’t prepare me to live here where the two classes of animals are food and target practice.” Very soon, Cole is killed in a traffic accident. His sisters are now resentful that Lusa is the heir of the 60 acres of family property and fearful that she will either sell it to somebody outside the family or marry an outsider and produce children who will become the land’s legal heirs. Lusa’s dilemma is deciding what she wants to do with her life: stay and savor the memories of her husband, whom she loves, and deal with her perceived enemies, or terminate this stage in her life and return to Lexington.

Garrett Walker is an 80-year-old widower, former school teacher, and a crosser and back-crosser of the Chinese chestnut and the nearly extinct American chestnut tree. He is a narrow-minded, insufferably opinionated, lonely old man who has “turned to God for his solace.” His nemesis is his neighbor, Nannie Rawley, an organic apple orchard grower who is close to 70 years of age. According to Garrett, Nannie defies all the rules of decent, socially acceptable, common sense behavior.

“Garrett had overlooked her as a child …; had hardly known her as a young woman since she was away for so many years; and had mainly ignored her as long as his wife was alive. … But now, during these eight years alone, he’d been forced to bear her as a burgeoning plague on his old age. Why? What made Nannie do the things she did, before God and Man and sometimes on Garrett’s property? He suspected a connection between that long-ago birth of a deformed child and her terror of chemicals. The troubles had been evident at birth, the Mongol features and so forth, and Nannie had named it Rachel Carson Rawley, after that lady scientist who cried wolf about DDT. Everything in Nannie’s life since seemed to turn on the birth of that child, now that he looked back. The woman had probably been normal once. That Child had launched her off the deep end.”

We discover later in the book that the illegitimate child’s father had also been Deanna Wolfe’s father. According to Garrett, townspeople had forgiven Nannie. “People thought she was comical and intriguing but for the most part excessively kind.” Truthfully, she could get away with anything. “They didn’t suspect her little figure of harboring the devil … He suspected Nannie Rawley had been put on this earth to try his soul and tempt his faith into doubt.” Much of their friction had to do with his use of chemicals. “Success without chemicals was impossible,” he believed. She complained that his use of them endangered her orchard. “If only his poisons would drift over onto her trees,” he wished. Garrett’s encounters with the very sympathetic Nannie Rawley provide entertaining comic relief.

The dominant theme of the novel revolves around the question: Should Man preserve what scientists perceive to be the balance of nature or should he exploit nature for his selfish purposes? Deanna believes that the extinction of any species affects unnaturally the existence of directly related species. You shoot a coyote pup, she tells Eddie Bondo, and “‘a big chunk of his mother’s whole life chance at replacing herself’” is taken down. “‘And you’ve let loose an extra thousand rodents on the world that he would have eaten.’” Garrett states in a letter to Nannie his belief that “we must view God’s creatures as gifts to his favored children and use them for our own purposes, even if this occasionally causes this one or that one to go extinct after a while.” Nannie answers him. “Everything alive is connected to every other by fine, invisible threads. Things you don’t see can help you plenty, and things you try to control will often rear back and bite you … If God gave Man all the creatures of this earth to use for his own ends, he also counseled that gluttony is a sin … He didn’t tell us to go ahead and murder every beetle or caterpillar that wants to eat what we eat (and, by the way, other insects that pollinate what we eat). He did not mean for us to satisfy our every whim for any food, in every season, by tearing down forest to make way for field, ripping up field to make way for beast, and transporting everything we can think of to places it doesn’t belong.” Kingsolver interjects this dominant theme skillfully throughout the novel.

Crisp Dialogue (between Deanna and Eddie Bondo)

“She forced her next words, knowing that each one had its own cost. ‘You said I could ask you a question, and now I’m asking it.’
‘You know.’
He blinked but didn’t speak. Something in his eyes receded from her.
‘What brought you down here to the mountains?’
He looked away. ‘A Greyhound bus.’
‘I have to know this. Was it the bounty hunt?’
He didn’t answer.
‘Just say no if the answer is no. That’s all I want.’
He still said nothing.
‘God.’ She let out a slow breath. ‘I’m not surprised. I knew that I will never, ever understand who you are.’
‘I never asked you to.’”

Appealing Sensory Imagery

“From inside her dark cocoon Deanna listened to the racket of a man in her cabin: the door flung open, boots stomping twice to shed their mud at the door, then the hollow clatter of kindling dropped on the floor. Next, the creak of the stove’s hinge and the crackling complaints of a fire being kindled and gentled to life Soon it would be warm in here, the chill of this June morning chased outdoors where the sun could address it.”

Visual Detail with Dialogue To Provide a Sense of Presence (Deanna and Bondo’s first meeting)

“Cocky, she thought. Or cocked, rather. Like a rifle, ready to go off. ‘What would I need your name for? You fixing to give me a story I’ll want to tell later.’ …
‘That I can’t say. But I won’t bite.’ He grinned—apologetically, it seemed. He was very much younger than she. His left hand reached up to his shoulder, fingertips just brushing the barrel of the rifle strapped to his shoulder. ‘And I don’t shoot girls.’
‘Well, wonderful news.’

A Special Knowledge of a Particular Subject

“She found a spot where it had circled a chestnut stump, probably for scent marking. She studied the stump, an old giant, raggedly rotting its way backward into the ground since its death by ax or blight. Toadstools dotted the humus at its base, tiny ones, brilliant orange, with delicately ridged caps like open parasols. The downpour would have obliterated such fragile things; these must have popped up in the few hours since the rain stopped—after the animal was here, then. Inspired by its ammonia.”

Prodigal Summer is an outstanding novel.
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LibraryThing member bookmagic
Prodigal Summer is one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors. It tells the story of three different people over the course of one summer in Appalachia.

Deanna Wolfe, works for the Forest Service and lives an isolated existence tracking and protecting coyotes. Lusa Landowski is a young
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entomologist who moved to a small farm to be with her now deceased husband. Garnett Walker is an 80 year old man trying to bring back the chestnut trees to his region and battling with his neighbor Nannie, whose organic farming methods threaten his project.

Kingsolver deftly weaves these stories together with an appreciation and understanding of humans and their impact on the environment and nature. Kingsolver has a way of drawing you into the story and making you care about her characters.

I would put Kingsolver in the same class as Alice Hoffman in her ability to tell a story that makes you feel different, feel moved by reading one of her novels. I even got a biology lesson during this read, but I was so enthralled with the story that I didn't even notice I'd learned anything until it was all over :) Kingsolver writes beautiful and poetic prose but always has important themes within. This is a lighter read than The Poisonwood Bible. If you have never read one of her books, this is a good one to start with and I highly recommend it
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
This book tells the stories of three groups of people, intertwined. In 'Moth Love' there is an exploration of the aftermath of death - the discovery of other sides of the story, so to speak. This was probably my favorite storyline told. I love Lusa's building of relationships and finding her place
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in the lives of her in-laws. 'Old Chestnuts' is humorous - two old people 'feuding' about their views on caring for the natural world around them, but also healing old animosities. 'Predators' was my least favorite story line, mostly because Deanna has tried so hard to cut herself off from other people and deny her needs for companionship - she is always fighting her relationship - and there is a fundamental difference of opinion getting in the way too. A couple of things got in the way of my enjoyment. Ms. Kingsolver got a little heavy handed at times over environmental issues, though her explanations of things like insect bloom and coyote populations were interesting. Also, having two women aware of their pheromones and that they were attractive to men because they were fertile was a little much. Overall, there's much to enjoy in this novel.
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LibraryThing member crimson-tide
Prodigal Summer is a very rich book by a very gifted author. Her descriptions of the mountains and the farms make you see it all in front of you, and the characters are so real that you are there with them and almost feel with them. Poetic and sensual and deep, yes; but so achingly real and yet so
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I did find the environmental theme a bit laboured as we all got "the message" fairly early on and the repetition was a little unnecessary, but that was easy to forgive as it did fit with the story and the characters, and the whole package was such a joy to experience.
I was incredibly disappointed that Deanna and Lusa did not meet by the end of the book. I really do want to know how the interconnection of the characters that was building up actually works out. I would love to know what happens to the 3 younger ones; Crystal, Lowell and Rick. If there were to be a sequel I'd read it in a flash, but I suspect that she has achieved the main game (the message) and the wonderful people were the conduit for that. I hope I'm wrong.
Absolutely loved Nannie Rawley, and the interaction with Garnett. A great foil to the more intense sections involving Deanna and Lusa. Living on a small landholding myself (which is actually a chestnut orchard funnily enough) I could identify with some of the activities and the dilemmas of "country life". Lusa madly bottling all the fruit and tomatoes because she could not bear to see them go to waste, and dreaming up schemes to get rid of surplus cucumbers . . . that made me really chuckle.
And the last chapter I did find a little off putting with respect to the change of voice. Clever with the mirroring of the first, but once again unnecessary. But that's only a tiny gripe.
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LibraryThing member theeccentriclady
I just finished an older book I have been meaning to read from my personal library for a long time. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kinsolver for me is a story about 3 women trying to live true, honest lives going against some strong traditions and long held beliefs in the mountains of Appalachia. In
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each ones way they try to live in harmony with the way nature intends for life to unfold; Life, death, reproduction and just the wonder and beauty of the earth. Accepting the good, as well as the bad. I enjoyed the willingness of each of the women to see the natural way of things all around them each season and not try to change things but seek to be part of the ebb and flow of nature and find enjoyment in all the earth provides. As well as learning to live with people who think differently than you. Working with the land and the people not against them.
What I really enjoy about Barbara’s writing style is that she weaves a great story into an issue that is important to her without being preachy, and offensive. She has a way of presenting both sides but helping nudge you to see her side. Having In-Laws from the Appalachia area, I related to the language and the ways of thought. If you are a hard core modern farmer or hunter you probably will have difficulty with the themes of this book but I feel it’s time we started taking a long hard look at what our greed is doing to our land and food supply. Also, how mistrust and unacceptance is hurting our relationships with each other.
Over all, a great read I thoroughly enjoyed all the way through.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
I previously read, on 1 July 2000, the author's The Bean Trees, and on 21 Jan 2001, her The Poisonwood Bible, both of said books having been read because they appeared on some list of "best books." This book is a 2001 book laid in Appalachia and telling in alternating chapters of Deanna, a "bug
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scientist" who works as a forest ranger and lives alone ( except when being seduced by a man who hunts coyotes) on a mountain in Appalcachia, Lusa, who married the only boy in a family of six and has the home place of her husband's family, and Garnet, an aging teacher of agriculture. All the stories are told in smoothly written prose (though there are words on how 'hillbillies' talk we are spared an effort to misspell words so as to tell of their way of pronunciation, i.e,, no dialect a la Uncle Remus). Each of the characters are sensitive and opinionated as to ecology and the like. Some of this concentration on bugs and animals and such bored me since such is not a great interest of mine, but the account ends pretty well. So I found the book on balance was better than I sometimes thought as I slogged through it.
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LibraryThing member sarah-e
Prodigal Summer is a love note to nature - to human nature and all parts of the physical world, as it evolves, destroys, is reborn. The story grows from the struggles of individuals to a sweeping tale of survival and of place. It is distinctly American and almost jokes about how varied our ideas of
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"rural" and "city" can be. Read this book if you like to think of nature as an animate, breathing thing - how all parts of the living world fit together ecologically, how order can blossom out of free will, how everything is mortal.
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LibraryThing member Batspit
Over the course of one steamy summer three lives are intertwined, refreshed and enriched in Zebulon County, a rural land somewhere in Appalachia. Kingsolver follows the lives of three people and each chapter alternates between Moth Love, Chestnut trees, and Predators, named after each character’s
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private obsessions.
Sometimes when I read novels set up this way I fall for one of the characters and the rest of the chapters are just a precursor to their story, however, I loved each and every character in this book, and savored every sentence.
Moth Love is the story of Lusa, a mixed heritage entomologist struggling to find her place on the farm. Her ancient farmhouse is filled with ghosts: her family, the childhood of her husband, his relatives, his scent. The ghosts are Lusa; she must learn to live with them before she can accept who she is and how she wants to live her life.
Old Chestnut: Garnet is a sanctimonious old fart. I loved this character, but I’m finding it rather hard to write about him. His family made a fortune logging chestnuts, the blight took it and he has had to work hard his whole life: he’s not complaining, it’s just how it is. His hobby is crossing American chestnuts with the blight resistant Chinese chestnut, half the time he considers the immortality they will bring him, half the time he realizes that unless he changes no one will ever see, let alone care about his Chestnuts. He is like the chestnut trees: the omnipresent memory of vitality and strength in tradition— yet technically extinct.
Predators: Deanna lives on the mountain; her mountain. Completely isolated from society she protects the mountain and all it’s deliciously detailed lives. Deanna delivers some of the best lines in the book: “All the really good animals are extinct”, and “thanks for this day, for all birds safe in their nests, for whatever this is, for life”, both of which I find quite beautiful. Her thing is coyotes; she is tracking one family who has made an unprecedented stay in her forest. Deanna is overwhelmed by the need to keep their presence a secret; the local farmers love to hate all predators.
I love the detail, I loved the easiness of reading, I loved the reoccurring themes of sex, verdant and streaming, of survival, of pure self-obsessed joy in living. The best thing is while each story was told, with a clear beginning, middle and end, it is equally clear none of the stories are over, that no story can end, truly.
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LibraryThing member tibobi
picked this book up a couple of times and put it right back down again. However, the third time I picked it up I stayed with it and I am glad I did. Richly written and somewhat lyrical in nature, Prodigal introduces us to interwoven story lines about love, nature and hope. Not a quick read but one
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to be savored.
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LibraryThing member bexaplex
The chapters titled 'Predators' are about a Forest Service/Park Service employee who studies top-chain predators, and who finds a surprisingly suitable mate in an itinerant hunter. 'Moth Love' follows a farmer's wife becoming a farmer, and 'Old Chestnuts' two cranky old neighbors growing trees
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(chestnut and apple).

Style never seems to intrude on the stories, which is a pretty good trick for a book that interweaves different characters without ever having them meet. I didn't even notice the last lines and the beginning lines are almost identical.

Kingsolver's respect for the non-human characters in the book is immense, and her detailed knowledge about biology impeccable. Prodigal Summer could be a textbook about ethics or Appalachian environmental history, except it's too well written.
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LibraryThing member edwin.gleaves
One of my favorite novels of all time, partly because of the ecological messages, partly because of the great writing of BK.




0060199652 / 9780060199654
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