Monday, July 8, 2013

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver - TLC Book Review

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver 
HarperCollins, 2012

Format? Hardback
Source? the publisher via TLC Book Tours
I received my copy of Flight Behavior from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  The opinions in this review are my own and offered without bias. 

Title? the "flight" obviously refers to the butterflies and their migratory behavior...but it also refers to Dellarobia and the connections were so subtle but so me, that's the test of a real writer, to take the obvious and make it lyrical :)
Cover? Perfect!

Why? I fell in love with Kingsolver when I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  I had heard of her before, of course, particularly The Poisonwood Bible, but had just never gotten around to reading her.  Seriously, you should see my copy of Animal Vegetable Miracle...the spine is broken, there are annotations on every page, it's obvious I read some of it while by the pool, etc.  What made me read Flight Behavior instead of any of the other Kingsolver fiction was, in fact, some of the criticism of the book concerning the focus on global warming, nature, sustainability, etc. 

What Now?
I want to read more Kingsolver...where should I start??

Golden Lines

They would say the same thing she'd heard her mother-in-law tell Cub: that Dellarobia was a piece of work (9).

Just motherhood, with its routine costs of providing a largesse that outstripped her physical dimensions.  She'd seen ewes in the pasture whose sixty-pound twins would run underneath together and bunt the udders to release the milk with sharp upward thrusts, jolting the mother's hindquarters off the ground.  That was the picture, overdrawn. (60)

Dovey affected a television voice: "In a scandal of national proportions, the president was seen flirting today with a sexy Tennessee woman wearing pajamas outside the home." (107)

Not just an orange passage across a continent as she'd imagined it before, not like marbles rolling from one end of a box to the other and back.  This was a living flow, like a pulse through veins, with the cells bursting and renewing themselves as they went. (146)

"Well, for one thing," she said, "when you clear-cut a mountain it can cause a landslide.  I'm not crying wolf here, Cub, it's a fact.  You can see it happening where they logged over by the Food King, there's a river of mud sliding over the road.  And that's exactly what happened in Mexico, where the butterflies were before.  They clear-cut the mountain, and a flood brought the whole thing down on top of them." (171)

If Ovid Byron was torn up over butterflies, he should see how it felt to look past a child's baby teeth into this future world he claimed was falling apart.  Like poor Job lying on the ash heap wailing, cutting his flesh with a husk.  That's where love could take you. (232)

"Cause," he said, "is not the same as correlation.  Do you know what I mean by that?" (243).

Truly, they were no better than the city people always looking down on southerners, with one Billy Ray Hatch or another forever at their disposal. If people played their channels right, they could be spared from disagreement for the length of their natural lives.  Finally, she got it.  The need for so many channels.  (258)

"An animal is the sum of its behaviors," he said finally.  "Its community dynamics.  Not just the physical body." (317)

"That is a concern of conscience," he said.  "Not of biology.  Science doesn't tell us what we should do.  It only tells us what is." (320)

There are always more questions.  Science as a process is never complete.  It is not a foot race, with a finish line.  (351)

"The key thing is," Juliet said, resting her elbow on the table, that beautiful wrist bending under the weight of its wooden rings, "once you're talking identity, you can't just lecture that out of people.  The condescension of outsiders won't diminish it. That just galvanizes it." (395)

Short and Sweet Summary

Dellarobia Turnbow sets out one afternoon to change her life by cheating on her husband.  At the top of a hill through the woods on the mountain, Dellarobia instead finds a treasure, trees and everything else covered by monarch butterflies, so surreal that Dellarobia sees it as a sign and returns home.  Scientists converge on Dellarobia's small Tennessee community to find out why the butterflies have changed their migratory patterns and what that change means for their survival as well as the survival of the communities affected by the interruption of the natural processes at work.  Dellarobia also finds her own life affected by the butterflies plight as she finds her wings and decides on her own flight plan.  

What I Liked

Kingsolver presents various sides to the argument of global warming, but that's not all Flight Behavior is about.  With Dellarobia, Kingsolver is able to present a variety of sides, the inter-related causes and effects of any natural phenomena and most importantly, human intervention or "meddling."  What mankind sees as progress has both positive and negative consequences.  Do we always have to have more of everything?  Is there always one right side and one wrong side?  Imagine what kind of sustainable progress we could make if all sides worked together.  Just imagine.  Pie in the sky?  Maybe.  But, what's so wrong with pie?

Roy and Charlie - I grew up watching border collies on a dairy farm and I never got used to what they could obedient they solid, loyal and gosh, smart!! It's almost like the animals talk to the herd (like the ending in the movie Babe ;P).  I'm also a sucker for a story that includes dogs in the family...sorry-not sorry.

Dellarobia's ability to see the shortcomings of her life in the Tennessee hills but also her ability to see those same shortcomings as strengths in certain situations.  For example, at one point in the story, an environmentalist from the city shares with Dellarobia a list of the things she can do to make the Sustainability Pledge he is advocating...things like taking her own Tupperware to a restaurant for leftovers when Dellarobia and her family haven't eaten out in two years due to their financial situation.  Or encouraging Dellarobia to commit to buying used items as much as possible when that's all she has anyway.  I snickered through this entire conversation because it's a perfect example of the "outsider" or "do-gooder" who thinks his/her answers are the ones that will solve the problem for everybody.

Representation of the South - I loved this...loved it.  Kingsolver's picture is so accurate, so accurate I felt like  I was reading a book written in my own community...or really some of the surrounding communities here in Mississippi.  Most of us have been eating out of our gardens since we were little kids, picking our own veggies, caring for animals, outside, eating meat our families either raised or hunted or no meat at all, eating what was in season or doing without (and not even realizing most of the time that we were doing without), shopping at consignment stores, handing down furniture, building our own homes, living around extended family members who all worked together for the good of the family as one, making important decisions community-wide and in church.  

The media - a perfect reminder of why we should question what's reported.  Ask for the facts from both sides of the argument (or however many sides there are) and then make up your own mind.

King Billy - The reader learns about the monarch butterflies right along with Dellarobia.  She's smart and can take Dr. Byron's academic talk and make it into a real world example.  I had a Chemistry teacher like that once.  I made an A in his class too :) 

Dovey - if we all had just one friend like Dovey - sassy, smart, funny, forgiving, loyal, honest and open.

Research is messy, messy, messy...a ton of work, and many times the researcher ends up with more questions rather than any definitive answers.  The most minute details cannot be overlooked and sometimes have the most meaning.  As an academic researcher, I know firsthand how overwhelming this process can be, especially when you have a host of people standing over you wanting to know the answers.  

On pg. 379, Kingsolver briefly introduces a very minor character named Beulah Rasberry, and then several pages later Dr. Byron's wife, Juliet mentions that she's originally from Mississippi.  My maiden name is Rasberry...and obviously, I'm from Mississippi so I couldn't help but wonder where Kingsolver got the name...or if it was something she just dreamed up. :)

On pg. 397, Kingsolver also talks about a 1976 article in National Geographic about the discovery of the monarch's migration to Mexico.  As I read this, I had a feeling of deja-vu; my father always had National Geographic magazines around our house (still gets them to this day), and I loved the vivid photos.  I felt sure I had seen that particular one.

Um, yep...sure did :)

What I Didn't Like

The first part of the novel where Dellarobia is headed out over the hill to meet someone and cheat on her husband.  I read through that part thinking I wasn't going to like the book.

Tina Ultner - admittedly a stereotypical reporter, but another reminder that even the most obnoxious have an that they (and their camp) think is right.  

Overall Recommendation

Fans of conservation, the South, sheep farming, the Tennessee mountains, the tricky dance between science and tradition as well as so-called progress will love this one as I did.

The Author

Other Stops on the Tour

Tuesday, June 4th: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, June 5th: 50 Books Project
Monday, June 10th: Love at First Book
Tuesday, June 11th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, June 13th: she treads softly
Friday, June 14th: I Read a Book Once
Monday, June 17th: Suko’s Notebook
Tuesday, June 18th: Mom in Love With Fiction
Thursday, June 20th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, June 20th:  Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Monday, June 24th: Amused By Books
Tuesday, June 25th: Joyfully Retired
Wednesday, June 26th: Wordsmithonia
Thursday, June 27th: Conceptual Reception
Monday, July 1st: Giraffe Days
Tuesday, July 2nd: The Well-Read Redhead
Wednesday, July 3rd: Dreaming in Books
Monday, July 8th: Peppermint PhD
Wednesday, July 10th: nomadreader
Thursday, July 11th: Olduvai Reads


  1. I really did not like Della and cannot believe she sprung the news to her kid on his birthday. Wow! That blew my mind and made me hate her!

    1. I kindof chalked it up to the passage of time between chapters...and assuming that Kingsolver wasn't telling us everything about everybody all the time. And, the actual arrangements of their personal life is never fully discussed so who knows what actually transpired after the final scene ;)

  2. This will be my first Kingsolver novel. I also read the stuffing out of Animal Vegetable Miracle, and I'm excited to get to this one.

    1. I actually found an old copy of The Poisonwood Bible on my TBR shelves so I think that's what I'll start with next :)

  3. wonderful review! I'm just past the part where Dellarobia discovers the butterflies and am in love with Kingsolver's writing style. So glad you've found it to be enjoyable!

    1. The first part of the novel, before she discovers the butterflies, really had me worried. I didn't want to read that story :/

  4. I've never read anything by her but have heard much praise for her writing.

    I once had a monarch caterpillar (or whatever the correct term is) attach to the side of my house in NJ. I watched and watched and watched the chrysalis and my husband and I got to see the butterfly emerge. It was very cool.

    1. We went to a butterfly exhibit once. You entered the tent and there were butterflies everywhere...I thought that was really special as well :)

  5. I've always liked Barbaras work, now I'll have to look for this one... thanks for sharing the info...

    1. I think you'd enjoy it, Karen bc so much of it is about conservation and can be applied to so many aspects of our lives today.

  6. I'm glad you were also on the tour for this book. As usual, your review is thorough and interesting. I'm not from the South, but this book, my first by Barbara Kingsolver, felt authentic to me as well. It also and inspired me in the garden....

    1. Thanks, Suko! I find that when I read books like Kingsolvers, I start paying a lot closer attention to the natural world around me as well :)

  7. Glad u liked this one Patti - me too. I also though Poisonwood Bible was excellent.

    1. I've already pulled The Poisonwood Bible off the shelf, Diane :) Thanks for recommending it! :)

  8. I absolutely loved The Poisonwood Bible, but I have not read Flight Behavior. I want to even more now that I have read your review. Great review!

  9. Poisonwood Bible is one of my all time favorite books and this one sounds like it could be right up there with it ... I can't wait to read and find out myself!

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.