I am not sure where to begin. I recently read a novel by a respected author who pens fiction and non with equal finesse and who always leaves me questioning, thinking, wanting to know more about the subject matter, the main character, something mentioned on page 243 . . .
I’ll begin at the beginning. Dellarobia Turnbow is trekking up the mountainside wearing secondhand boots bought for their color. It is one of the few things she has that is just hers. She is trudging along in the mud, for the area has been experiencing rain of Biblical proportions, without her eye glasses, in search of an affair with a telephone man, when she discovers the Turnbow forest aflame. Like Moses at the burning bush, Dellarobia is transfixed and her life is forever changed, in ways she could not have imagined when she began her defiant walk.
So begins Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior”.
What Dellarobia saw with her myopic vision was not a forest in flames. What she saw were monarchs, off course. As off course as Dellarobia and all those around her will be as the news media, the internet, protesters and entomologists descend on her Appalachian town in a “what if” sort of story that touches upon issues of climate change, disparity in education, poverty, science, religion, despair and hope.
When Della’s husband, Cub, makes an announcement in church that his family, encouraged by his wife’s vision, came upon millions of “king billies” on their forested mountain, all havoc breaks lose. The forest is scheduled to be clear cut for money to pay back a “balloon” loan payment, among other things. Entomologist, Dr. Ovid Byron, sets up camp in a trailer on Cub and Dellarobia’s property, and, later a lab in the sheep barn. Both bring some excitement, rent money, and even a job for Dellarobia. It also brings the outside world to their home, a house built on the Turnbow property by Cub’s parents when Della was 17, pregnant, and suddenly married.
The Turnbow’s live on the edge of poverty, barely eking out enough money to get by. Dellarobia is a young woman with two children and unfulfilled dreams of going to college and living a better life. Cub is a good man who is uninspired and brow-beaten by his father, Bear, and his mother, Hester, who has some secrets of her own. Together, they raise sheep, do odd jobs, and hang on to life as best they can.
There is so much I can say about this book. How I came to like, even love, the characters, especially Dellarobia. How kind Dr. Byron is; how attentive to Della’s young son, encouraging his questions and interest in science. How I laughed out loud at Della’s wit and perspectives, How I wanted to throttle Bear and how I came to understand Hester.
There are so many issues raised in “Flight Behavior”; climate change, responsibility for actions, care of the environment, distrust of scientists, the influence of the news media, how those most directly impacted by environmental and other issues are the ones most often forgotten. Stereotypes and prejudices, stubbornness and impulsiveness.
There is a moment where an activist implores Dellarobia to sign an environmental pledge, as she sits on a folding chair, in the rain, on the mountain, counting monarchs for Dr. Byron. Della, whose carbon footprint is miniscule, shops with food stamps and conserves on heat because they can’t afford to pay their bills, is chided to eat local and more fruits and vegetables while she is trying the best she can to stop the logging proposal, which will likely cause mudslides and the demise of life as she and her family know it, replies
“Are you crazy? I’m trying to increase our intake of red meat.”
“Why is that?”
“Because mac and cheese only gets you so far, is why. We have lamb, we produce that on our farm. But I don’t have a freezer. I have to get it from my in-laws.”
This isn’t about becoming a vegetarian, putting on more blankets, or not using paper plates. It is more, to me, about how we approach concerns, how sometimes activism loses people to their cause because of insensitivity or ignorance. So much of what happens in our lives is interpreted from our own personal perspectives, isn’t it? I read “Flight Behavior” as I pondered the one monarch seen thus far this summer her on the Cutoff, and four or five bumble bees spotted. I read it on an unseasonably cool Fourth of July while firestorms ravaged the southwest and rains fell on the British Isles. I wondered, as I read, and I laughed, grew angry, forgiving – then, as the book ended, I shed some tears of “what if?”
Have you read Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” or any of her other books?