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Apr22

Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” soars!

The title  is perfect on at least three different levels: 1)  behavior of the butterflies; 2) behavior of Dellarobia Turnbow, who wants to flee her marriage; and 3) behavior of the media, and for that matter most of the human community, which prefers to fly away from the knowledge of climate change and its consequences.

Butterfly Habitat?

Butterfly Habitat?

Butterfly Habitat?

Butterfly Habitat?

Butterfly Habitat?

Butterfly Habitat?

Our Dellarobia!  You will laugh, you will  flinch, you may cry, at our working-class housewife’s sexually-restless desperation as mother of two young children,  wife of a man less inquisitive than she, and daughter-in-law of a mean-spirited woman who appears to pull all the strings.  Dellarobia wants so much more, and on the level of fun fiction, this is the story what she gets and what she doesn’t.

Kingsolver uses Dellarobia and her cast of supporting characters masterfully  to delineate the class difference between environmentalists and poor Christian rural farmers.  And through Ovid Bryan, her  Caribbean scientist who shows up to study the Monarchs butterflies, the author even manages to give us a believable scenario where for once class trumps race, even in the old South.

But the main thing about this book, whose real main characters are the Monarchs and climate change?  Against all odds, the novel’s  insightful exploration of our weather plight manages to be uplifting.  It turns out that people care about butterflies, maybe even enough to do something (quickly!) about the impending ecological disasters that are lurking all around us.

Some say this book is preachy, and certainly the authorial view is clear throughout.  But why is this criticism leveled most often at works that take on politics and point to the need for change?  Is Nabokov’s Lolita didactic because he insists on showing us the internal workings of a pedophile?  Do we call Fitzgerald to task for subjecting us to the travails of the upper class in The Great Gatsby, or is it just Steinbeck who is prescriptive,  in The Grapes of Wrath, and In Dubious Battle?

Maybe it’s the Soviets’ fault!  In their demand for socialist realism, did they ruin social realism for us all forever?  Or does the incessant critique serve the interest of the status quo, by denigrating any call through fiction for substantive change?

In any event, if  you want to scare yourself with a dystopic description of what California weather could be like in 2025, try TC Boyle’s A Friend of the EarthAnd if you want to understand what it’s like to be a young Latina scientist drilling for ice cores, Carbon Dreams, by Susan M. Gaines, is well worth your while.   But if you are only going to read one novel on climate change, make it Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.  She allows us to laugh and dream and worry about the politics of the issue, all at the same time.

Butterfly Habitat?

Butterfly Habitat?

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8 Comments

  1. Michael Kaye

    Keep up the good fight, Barbara! I like butterflies.

    1. barbararhine

      I like butterflies too, Michael. And all the other fauna of our world. Thus I am SO UPSET about the current phase of human-caused extinction! Can’t we pull off a little more harmony with our fellow creatures on the planet?

  2. Grant V

    I grew up wit Monarch butterflies. They were my friends in mid-twentieth century Los Angeles.

    1. barbararhine

      Wow–I lived in Los Angeles in the mid-twentieth century, and didn’t know the Monarchs were there. It’s a big world, and each of us occupies such a small niche. Hard to see over one’s own walls. But that’s changing, due to the Internet, no? All the information we could possibly want. Now if we can just learn to act in concert for what we all (at least most of us) want–a vibrant and varied planet.

  3. Mimi Haberfeld

    I’m happy to hear you read this book, I loved it. Kingsolver has long been a favorite of mine. A voice for the environment, the status of women and always a good read. Her characters are sympathetic and I always find myself identified with them and at the end of the story wanting to spend more time with them.

    1. barbararhine

      And do you find her didactic or preachy? Me, no. But then again, she reflects my own values. Still, I think she writes with such skill and such heart that her work transcends judgment. Did you catch “Lacuna?” I liked that one too, and it was out of the mold, in that her main character was a gay man.

  4. Xenia Lisanevich

    I love Monarchs, too. Recently I heard they are being exploited for weddings. Wedding planners buy them from sellers and they get released during the wedding. Cheaper and less messy than birds, I guess. But this doesn’t seem right to me. Do the sellers breed them? I hope they don’t collect them, which surely must be illegal. Even if they breed them, they are taking them from their known habitats to probably perish in unsuitable environments. These butterflies are endangered, and yet they are being bred for exploitation, not to help the species survive.

    I will surely get this Kingsolver book to read on my Kindle Fire. Yes, I’ve succumbed, at least partially, to ebooks. I’ve always liked Barbara Kingsolver, but haven’t read anything of hers lately.

    1. barbararhine

      I think when you read “Flight Behavior” you will agree with me that the collectors of monarchs for such weirdo human purposes CAN’T be breeding them. Their way of reproducing is too complex, if Kingsolver knows what she is talking about, and I bet she does. I am sure she is a compulsive researcher on top of being such a talented fiction writer. So skilled! Why can’t we all be like that??

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