Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver
HarperCollins, 433 pages
All of the important things in Dellarobia Turnbow’s life happened by accident. When she was born, her mother bestowed the name in a postpartum fog, with a vague recollection that there was someone called Dellarobia in the Bible. They discovered years later that she had a less exalted namesake; her mother was really thinking of the pretty name of a nature wreath she saw in a craft magazine. A little while after, her parents died, and teenage Dellarobia was left on her own. She intended to finish high school and go to college, but a careless encounter with a kind but slow-witted farm boy put an end to those dreams. At twenty-seven, Dellarobia found herself married to a man she never really respected, drained by the constant demands of caring for her young children, and chained to a life of hopeless poverty. It was a dismal situation, and one day, she left her children with her mother-in-law, intent on escape.
Dellarobia began to climb the hills behind her house, and what she saw stopped her in her tracks. The trees were covered in million points of orange and black light. It was as if the forest was ablaze. For Dellarobia, it was the burning bush come right to the Appalachias, and it caused her to walk right back into her old life and live it anew.
The woods on the Turnbow property, in fact, were the new home of millions of Monarch butterflies, who are not normally seen in the area, and certainly not in numbers such as these. The Turnbows, their friends, and neighbours all see it as a blessing from above, but when Dr. Ovid Byron and his team of biologists arrive, Dellarobia begins to agree with them that it’s an unhealthy aberration. Normally, the butterflies migrate between Mexico and Ontario, but this year, they have all landed on this one farm in Tennessee. Dr. Byron and the researchers want to discover why, and Dellarobia learns a new way of looking at the world when she is hired to do the clerical work.
Kingsolver is one of my favourite authors, and Flight Behavior is perhaps her best work yet. It delivers a persuasive message about the dangers of global warming while telling an absorbing story of life-altering accidents, colliding social spheres, and the significance of facilitating survival.