A young wife and mother experiences something she cannot explain, and her discovery energizes various competing factions—religious leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists, politicians—trapping her in the center of the conflict and ultimately opening up her world.
All sorts of ‘crazy wanting,’ both prosaic and earth-shattering, are shot through the intricate tapestry of Barbara Kingsolver’s majestic and brave new novel, Flight Behavior. Her subject is both intimate and enormous, centered on one woman, one family, one small town no one has ever heard of — until Dellarobia stumbles into a life-altering journey of conscience. How do we live, Kingsolver asks, and with what consequences, as we hurtle toward the abyss in these times of epic planetary transformation? And make no mistake about it, the stakes are that high … The arrival of the butterflies is of enormous consequence to Dellarobia’s town. Some want to exploit it for sightseeing. Some want to sell the woods to pay off a looming debt. As the media exploit their unsophisticated subjects, Dellarobia notices that ‘nobody was asking why the butterflies were here; the big news was just that they were.’
To Dellarobia, the swarms are a warning — go home, don’t cheat — but the devoted of Feathertown see a miracle and want a piece of the action. A Bible class dropout ‘tainted with doubt’ and pining for the college education her teen marriage thwarted, Dellarobia is drawn to science and its practitioners, at odds with her neighbors, who believe weather and its accompanying phenomena to be the Lord’s business … Do global warming and intimations of doomsday tax the storytelling at times? Yes. But they share these pages with smaller-scale, deliciously human moments. Without overreaching she delivers line after line that can be at once beautiful, casual, wry, offbeat. Whether she is describing Dellarobia’s malcontented, ambitious in-laws or the environmentally earnest rubberneckers or Feathertown’s rumpled young preacher, she never employs, as she says of one character, the ‘ordinary tools of contempt.’
The word ‘rapture’ appears on the very first page of Flight Behavior. This is appropriate, for the novel extols the ecstasy of passionate engagement — with people, ideas and the environment … Kingsolver takes us deep inside her smart, appealing protagonist's underprivileged world of free school lunches and soul-sapping secondhand stores. Despite her lack of worldly experience, Dellarobia is acutely aware of her family's Appalachian hillbilly status. Kingsolver highlights social stratifications in often comic scenes … Earnest conversations between Dellarobia and Ovid about the direness of environmental conditions sometimes make us feel as if we've wandered into a sophomore seminar, but it's impressive that Kingsolver doesn't sugarcoat the sobering facts of climate change or the heartbreak of a marriage between two good people who are wrong for each other.