Review + Giveaway: Flight Behavior

I received this book for free from BEA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review + Giveaway: Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Published by HarperCollins on November 6, 2012
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 436
Format: ARC
Source: BEA

Flight Behavior transfixes from its opening scene, when a young woman's narrow experience of life is thrown wide with the force of a raging fire. In the lyrical language of her native Appalachia, Barbara Kingsolver bares the rich, tarnished humanity of her novel's inhabitants and unearths the modern complexities of rural existence. Characters and reader alike are quickly carried beyond familiar territory here, into the unsettled ground of science, faith, and everyday truces between reason and conviction.

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.

Flight Behavior takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world.

First Sentence: “A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture.”

I love Barbara Kingsolver. All of her books automatically go on my to-read list, because she’s brilliant. One of the things I love about her is how unique her books are from one another. She writes different kind of characters in disparate environments and focuses on varying themes. I find it so impressive when authors can reinvent themselves so often. Flight Behavior is my fourth Kingsolver book. Unfortunately, unlike the others, this one failed to meet my expectations.

My first Kingsolver read was The Bean Trees, which centers around a girl desperate to get out of her small, hick town where most of the girls are pregnant before they even leave high school. She wants to be one of the ones to leave and never come back. Through some odd circumstances, she finds herself stuck raising a baby that’s not hers, sort of falling into motherhood. The plot itself didn’t have much appeal for me as a reader, but the book was utterly compelling and I loved it so much. Kingsolver’s powerful writing and intriguing, quirky characters pulled me in despite myself.

In Flight Behavior, Kingsolver again focuses on a heroine who had dreams of escaping her hick town, but this one didn’t make it. Dellarobia hoped to go to college, but wound up pregnant instead. Even worse, the baby boy died, leaving her stuck in a marriage with a man she doesn’t respect and reliant on judgmental in-laws. Her unhappiness manifests itself in a wandering eye; she has had a number of crushes on men, flirted with the idea of an affair. The hook of the novel is when Dellarobia heads up the mountain to meet with one of her men and cheat on her husband. On her way, she sees the forest burning with butterflies, and interprets that as a sign from God that she needs to go back to her life and make good.

Dellarobia’s life certainly is unfortunate, and it’s such a shame that her promise was wasted on this small town, where kids only take two years of rudimentary math in school. Even the bright ones aren’t given enough education to be able to get out of town. I feel for her, but I didn’t connect with her or any of the other characters. In all of Kingsolver’s previous works, I was held rapt in unfamiliar worlds by the power of the characters and the writing, but these characters simply failed to grab onto my heart and take hold.

Another problem too is that, while the writing is beautiful as always (and shows that you can not write in dialect but still achieve a southern feel), the story feels a bit like a combination of two of the Kingsolver books I’d previously read: The Bean Trees and Prodigal Summer. Revisiting old themes, while not what I know Kingsolver for, can be done well, but, in this case, it felt repetitive and less well done.

Flight Behavior feels like it was written not so much for the characters as to be the vehicle for a message: global warming is real and it’s not just about changing temperatures. Now, of course, it’s alright for books to have a moral, a message, but I don’t like to feel like I’m being beat over the head with it or being talked down to.

The butterflies Dellarobia witnessed normally wintered in Mexico, but moved to her small town because of environmental changes and now the whole population of Monarch butterflies could be in danger of extinction. A lepidopterist comes to study them, and works with and teaches Dellarobia, highlighting her boredom with her husband and her desire for something bigger. Because of her rudimentary education, the reader receives both the scientific explanations for everything and the ‘country’ version, a cute little metaphor for everything that’s happening. This felt a bit insulting to me, as though this setting was chosen to allow for global warming to be explained in a simplified way that the stupid disbelievers could fathom. Prodigal Summer also dealt with the importance of taking care of the environment, but did not make me feel so lectured.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, but I’m disappointed to have not enjoyed a book by one of my favorite authors. Her writing is still gorgeous, but the book is massive, slow, and filled with a lot of minutiae about Dellarobia’s life I could have done without. Surely others will appreciate this one (most of the reviews on Goodreads are highly flattering and NPR approves), but it fell flat with me.

Favorite Quote: “‘You do everything you can,’ she said. ‘And then, I guess, you do everything you can’t. You keep doing, so your heart won’t stop.'”

Obviously this one didn’t work for me, but Barbara Kingsolver is still to be experienced. I’m giving away my copy to one reader. US only, since I shall be shipping this rather heavy paperback. Just fill out THIS FORM and leave a comment by November 20th at midnight.

12 responses to “Review + Giveaway: Flight Behavior”

  1. Anita Yancey says:

    I haven’t read any books by this author, but this book definitely sounds interesting and I think I would enjoy reading it. Thanks for having this giveaway.


  2. techeditor says:

    I’ve never read this author, but this book gets such glowing reviews EVERYWHERE but here (that I’ve seen) that I’m curious enough to try it. Therefore, I entered your contest. I’m pretty sure I’ll end up agreeing with you, though. I rarely agree with glowing reviews. Either way, I’ll write my own review and share it with you.

  3. mobb says:

    this book also caught my attention. maybe i should give it a try

  4. Aw it’s too bad this one didn’t work for you. It’s disappointing to see that an author you’ve come to love for constantly reinventing herself went with old themes in this one. I don’t think I would like this one because just from your review I don’t like the MC. Why didn’t she just leave her husband instead of sleeping around on a mountain? O.o

  5. wow, surprised you did not like it, I thought this was Kingsolver at her best (and I have read all her books, including her collections of essays), perhaps even better than her masterpiece The Poisonwood Bible. Actually the end of the book seems to announce a bright future for the heroine, you didn’t mention this element, maybe to avoid spoilers, so I will remain vague here as well.
    here is my ecstatic review:
    thanks for being honest anyway, and for your giveaway.
    ehc16e at yahoo dot com

  6. Darn, I’m sorry to see that this one didn’t work for you, but thanks for being on the tour.

  7. trish says:

    I have long been a Kingsolver fan so I’m really looking forward to picking this one up! I’m curious to see what my reaction will be after reading yours. 🙂

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