How was that even normal, to cry over insects?

–Delarobia, Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver

There are very a few authors whose collections I feel compelled to devour in their entirety. Barbara Kingsolver is in that select few. She’s brilliant. Her mastery of the English language inspires me. Her intellect humbles me. Her reverence for nature motivates me to observe, conserve, and appreciate the natural world.

Her latest book,  Flight Behavior  is set in the Appalachian Mountains. The story centers on Delarobia Turnbow, a young wife and mother, literally running away from her life in someone else’s cast off boots. Delarobia chances upon a discovery that changes her life: millions of monarch butterflies unexpectedly alight in the forest.  Miracle or sign of impending environmental doom? You decide. Kingsolver, a trained biologist, throws in enough science to make you feel like an armchair lepidopterist.  Staying true to the region, she also smacks down some religion. Any time you pass by the Bible Belt you can expect a good spank.  It’s a good mix that creates a nice tension.

I relished most of this book, but there were parts that made me really tired.  I understand the story is set in Tennessee, but I could have done without the Honey Boo Boo vibes. I like my fiction to take me away from my real life, not put me right back at the heart of it.  I live in Tennessee.  I have relatives that wear shirts that say things like, “You mess with me, you mess with the whole trailer park.”  If I wanted to experience a marital dispute in Wal-Mart I could just load up the family in the pickup truck, drive a couple miles down the road, and go at it.  I’m already familiar with this routine. I don’t need to read about it. And if I wanted to experience Wal-Mart scenery, but felt too lazy to drive down the street, I could surf the People of Wal-mart website from bed without having to read pages and pages of dialogue devoted to this sort of thing.   Wal-mart drama does not make good literature. In Kingsolver’s own words, “It could not be more tedious or familiar, any of it.”

Also, I wish academia was half as fabulous as described in this story.   Kingsolver paints an idealized version of this endeavor featuring researchers with the purest intentions who are blessed with outlandish funding, and the most understanding of spouses.   It’s a really lovely picture, even true to a degree, but still incomplete.  (Where are the turf wars, conspiracies, and petty squabbles over the minutia?)

Despite my minor gripes, it was an awesome story.  I was smitten with the real main character of the story: the butterflies.  In the end I cried for what was revealed about the interconnectedness of individuals to each other and to the environment.


And only because I brought it up, I have to include this video of the People of Wal-mart.