One of our newish neighbors (Barbara Kingsolver) has a brand new novel (Flight Behavior) coming out in November, and I just received an advance copy (Thanks, HarperCollins!).
This novel is a homecoming of sorts. Like her first book, The Bean Tree, it pays homage to Kingsolver’s rural roots. She was raised in Carlisle, a small town in eastern Kentucky, but in the 1970s, she moved to Arizona, where she spent nearly two decades. The desert inspired many of her subsequent books, but in 2004 Kingsolver returned east, settling in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
Her Appalachian home was spotlighted three years later. The book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life provided a true account of her family’s attempt to sustain themselves with food that was grown on their Southwest Virginia land or sourced locally. I’ve not read it, but it made Time’s top ten list for the year. Rick Bass, a favorite writer of mine, said that “this text will fold quietly into the reader’s consciousness, with affecting grace and dignity, because of its prose and sensibilities.”
As I stare at the cover of Kingsolver’s latest novel, I hope that her signature charm carries over to this book. Flight Behavior tackles the polarizing issue of climate change, but it does so from a fresh angle. The novelist illustrates how sudden upheaval in the natural world might impact ordinary, mountain people.
The book opens on Dellarobia Turnbow, a young mother with faded ambitions. She married at seventeen and has been raising babies and biting her tongue around her husband’s antagonistic family ever since. Dellarobia is walking up a mountain side. She is beset by doubt and consternation, but nonetheless, she is headed toward an old turkey blind, the only place private enough to meet a younger man.
This is the first time Dellarobia has stepped out of her motherly role, the first self indulgent thing she’s done in years. As she dodges briars, she considers the consequences of an affair. Her town will judge her. Her children will be branded. Still, she is marching forward when she comes upon a scene she cannot explain.
On the trees right around her, she see’s brownish clumps. She wonders if they’re a spreading fungus and, preoccupied, keeps walking. When she reaches an overlook, her view expands and Dellarobia sees that every single trunk and twig is covered. The color is not brown so much as red. She faces an entire valley blanketed with some strange smokeless fire. It moves in waves, releasing bits like sparks from a burning pine log, but it does not crackle. This is a silent miracle, and Dellarobia knows what it means. She must go back to her family, to her cluttered yard, and to an uncertain future.
I’ve skimmed this part, the beginning of the book, and after such a bold opening, I’m excited to read the rest. Watch for my review sometime between now and the book’s release in November. In the meantime, folks who have read the book are leaving spirited comments all around the web. These come from the literary site Goodreads:
“The opening paragraphs of FLIGHT BEHAVIOR captivated me. A bored young wife and mother is en route up the mountain to ‘throw away her life’ through adultery when she sees a Tennessee mountain version of a burning bush and reconsiders.” Ellen Meeropol
“Kingsolver offers a caring, nuanced look at life in Appalachia and raises our awareness of what real global warming looks like to actual people.” Will
“Barbara Kingsolver is a scientist as well as an author, and the two blended perfectly in this book.” Ann Boles
“As Kingsolver puts it, poor, rural, Southerners are the people in the United States most likely to be effected by climate change. Unfortunately, they are also the demographic least likely to have any accurate information about what it is, and what that means for them, and the world.” Sara Beigle
If you’ve put your hands on a copy of Flight Behavior, please let us know what you think. If you’d like to reserve a copy, you can do so on Amazon and they will ship it to you after November 6, the day the book comes out.