”Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.”
Thoughts: The official synopsis of Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel, Flight Behavior makes the story seem much more exciting than it really is. This is not a novel about finding unknown truths so much as it is confronting the truth that has been largely ignored, either through ignorance or through denial. It is a slow, meandering story of discovery – both scientific and personal – that is as informative as it is interesting.
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!