Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Flight Behavior : Mom & Me Review

For a summary-sans-spoilers of Flight Behavior, head to the bottom of
this post.
 When "Mom & Me" stumbled upon the opportunity to review one of our mutual favorites' latest novels, we scrambled all over ourselves to be first in line.  And - happily - we queued up in time.

So:  Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior.  The Lacuna's equal?  Her next Poisonwood Bible?  Or Prodigal Summer on steroids?

Me?  I'm saying the last one. Flight Behavior delivers many of the elements on which Kingsolver's fans have come to rely: world issues front and center, a richly developed female protagonist, and prose neatly fitted to Kingsolver's setting and themes. 

Issue-wise, it's as ambitious as anything she's done.  For a novelist to attempt to convert skeptics to acceptance of climate change and its life-altering consequences for ordinary individuals via a story also designed to humanize and elevate the impoverished citizens of Appalachia, well, that's moxie.  And I have to admire Kingsolver's unceasing desire to write about what matters rather than what (necessarily) sells.  I'd rather read her third best book than another Gone Girl or cookie-cutter Patterson paperback any day.  And that's pretty much what Flight Behavior was for me: a valiant effort.

And pleasant to pass the time too.  I used the "tandem read" strategy to immerse myself in Flight Behavior, listening to Kingsolver read it when I was driving and reading it myself when I got home.  Over the course of many days in their presence, I came to feel that Dellarobia Turnbow, and Cub, and Preston and Cordie, and Dovey and Hester and Bear - not to mention the sheep and the scientists and the preacher and the collies and the activists - were indeed my neighbors, be they all the way on the other side of the country and in a fictional world.  I can still see the Turnbows' back pasture, so similar to many I drive by every week;  their serviceable but characterless house, much like my own; and their steeply canted, fir-forested hillside, a hazy mirror to the one I'll likely hike this afternoon. 

So - in my view - Kingsolver has once again deftly accomplished her primary job as a novelist: she has created a world that we inhabit like our own, that we continue to visit in our minds' eyes, and that we call back in memory as we re-see our own world through the prism of hers.

And, Mom?
Flight Behavior--Whose? Yours? Mine? Monarch's? Dellarobia's? Cub's? Hester's? Bear's? Ovid's? Everyone's?

The multiple answers to that question drove me through a book that begins slowly and continues in what, to me, were fits and starts. Momentum here isn't the name of Barbara Kingsolver's game. Her game, as I see it, is to grab us with her confused young mother protagonist in a quandary about her life; then the reader accompanies Dellarobia.  Dellarobia is trying to figure out how she let life lead her rather than taking charge and trying to make life what she would like it to be. Her flight pattern is what moves the book and, as I indicated, the route and timing are erratic.

Flight Behavior describes a year of natural aberration that descends upon a mountain in Tennessee owned by Dellarobia's father-in-law, who has contracted to have clear-cut.  Dellarobia discovers the global phenomenon lurking in these trees; this sets up the book's storyline.

From there, the story makes many twists and turns, connecting all of the main characters to their own lives and to their families. The novel offers us insights into how much people wish life to have certainty and control in their lives and, ultimately, how little most folks have of those characteristics.

Some of the most beautiful, story-moving passages:

"Summer's heat had never really arrived, nor the cold in its turn, and everything living now seemed to yearn for sun with the anguish of the unloved. The world of sensible seasons had come undone." (49)

"From this high part of the pasture they could see in all directions through the barren woodlands. The topography of the farm came clear: the steep, high reach of mountains behind, the narrow drainage of the valley below. It occurred to her how much was obscured in summer by the leaves. With all those reassuring walls of green, a person could not see to the end of anything. Summer was the season of denial." (256-257)

"But being a stay-at-home mom was the loneliest kind of lonely, in which she was always and never by herself....A gut-twisting life of love, consecrated by the roof and walls that contained her and the air she was given to breathe." (59, 60)

All in all: "Mom & Me" would recommend this to Kingsolver fans and to those willing to meander through a novel focused on important global-local issues rather than plot.
As always, our gratitude to Trish and all at TLC Book Tours for offering us the opportunity to keep "Mom & Me" growing as we review exciting new titles each month.


The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. The most you can do is live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides. — from Kingsolver's Animal Dreams (my personal second-fave, after The Poisonwood Bible)

Mom & Who? 
Mom's a retired science librarian/tech writer in New Mexico; I'm a high school English teacher in Washington state. We share a love of our imperfectly tended gardens (OK, mine's oh so much more imperfect than hers), lifelong learning (not a day goes by...), Jacques Pepin, travel, show tunes, our two-legged and four-legged family members, and - of course - books.

Once a month or so, we offer up a tandem review about a new book we both suspect you'll enjoy.  We hope you'll find our "dialogue" valuable reading in and of itself, and that we'll inspire you to try your own inter-generational read-along, be it with our picks or with your own.

Looking for that plot summary? 

Plot Summary, Sans Spoilers, from Kingsolver's Website:

Dellarobia Turnbow, the engaging central character who sets things in motion, is ready for a change of any kind. A mother of young children, trapped in claustrophobic rural poverty, Dellarobia long ago repressed any ambitions or promise of her own. Her husband, Cub — whom she married as a pregnant teenager — is a kind but passive man who cedes all decisions to his domineering parents who own the sheep farm where they all live and work. Dellarobia submits to the mind-numbing duties of her life, but for the whole of her marriage has been bedeviled by fantasies of illicit affairs.

At the end of a gloomy, relentlessly rainy summer and autumn she finds herself at the limits of her endurance. In the novel's opening pages she strikes out recklessly, thrilled and terrified, having agreed for the first time to an actual tryst with another man. Dellarobia is on her way up the mountain to a secluded hunting shed when she is stopped in her tracks by what she believes to be a miracle: an entire forested valley alight with cold orange flame. She flees back to her life, keeping her strange secret, but soon learns her father-in-law plans to clear-cut the forest for urgently-needed cash. In an impossible bind, Dellarobia finds a way to convince her husband and father-in-law to survey the forest before it is logged, without revealing her secret or why she discovered it. When the family treks up the mountain the truth is revealed, and the revelation is less miraculous — and more disturbingly unnatural — than she could have guessed.

The spectacular and freakish eruption of nature summons Dr. Ovid Byron, a charismatic scientist who arrives at the farm intent on investigation. Dellarobia and her five-year-old son Preston are enthralled by the exotic entomologist and his work. But others in the community, including farmers who have lost crops to the weather's new extremes, are less receptive to his talk of global climate change and its repercussions for natural systems and human affairs. Everyone in the neighborhood and beyond, from religious fundamentalists to environmentalists and the ratings-conscious media, brings a point of view and a penchant for shaping the evidence to suit an agenda. The ordeal quickly grows beyond the boundaries of family, community and nation, carving its lasting effects on Dellarobia, forcing her to examine everything she has ever trusted as truth.

For additional information about all things Kingsolver, visit her comprehensive site, complete with excerpts from all her books, or check out her Facebook page.


As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Agreed. I thought Flight Behavior was a solid novel as far that goes, but not among Kingsolver's best work. I admired how she was able to treat all of her characters with dignity and respect, even the 'backwoods" ones, who tend to be the butt of liberal jokes. I think she really made it clear that in order for us to stop mountain top removal and other environmental dangers, we first must eradicate the rural poverty whose desperation demands it. --If these people had a chance to survive and raise their without selling off their land that has likely been in their families for generations, don't you think they would? Without understanding that, we'll get nowhere.

Laurie said...

Yes, thanks so much for your reminder of one of this novel's central themes, and how clearly Kingsolver manages to convey her views as a scientist-citizen without waxing didactic or vilifying folks who have been good stewards of the land for generations.
One of her strengths in this novel seems to be conveying the complexity of every choice each individual makes, and the Myriad unpredictable repercussions of those choices.
Butterfly Effect? I think so....

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I always enjoy reading your joint reviews - they give great perspectives on the book you read together. I'm interested to see what I think about Kingsolver's latest book. I LOVED Poisonwood Bible ...

Thanks for being on the tour!

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