Reviewed by Lindsay Denninger -

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

    Harper - November 2012
    ISBN 978-0062124265, $16.20, 448 pages (hardcover)


The prolific Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel, Flight Behavior, opens in an Appalachian world few outsiders have ever seen, but the feelings of her protagonist, Dellarobia Turnbow, are universal. Bored with her never-should-have-stayed marriage, her young children, her poverty, and her squandered potential, Dellarobia hikes to her husband's family's failed Christmas tree farm to meet with a paramour. Starting an affair, she thinks, will change her life in a way that will matter. But she doesn't quite make it, drawn to something hanging from the trees. Pods of millions of butterflies?

Kingsolver herself is a staunch environmentalist—many of her novels focus on the natural world, and in the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver and her family attempted to only consume what they could grow or barter for themselves. When it comes to sustainability, Kingsolver gets it—she's lived it. She starts Flight Behavior in a world where Dellarobia's marriage is falling apart, and it continues in a world literally melting: greenhouse gases, eroding ice caps, and millions of animal species in danger. As herds of Monarch butterflies ride out a hard winter in Appalachia and the uncertainty of a breaking migration pattern, flame-haired Dellarobia finds a spark, alighted by a team of visiting scientists and a newfound belief in her abilities. Asking the question, “What can we do to fix this?” Dellarobia sets about with a newfound curiosity in science and a new lease on making herself—and not everyone else—happy.

Flight Behavior analyzes not only how one change in the environment can damage a whole ecology, but also how every minute decision in a life can alter its course. Though heavy-handed at times with scientific diatribes and lectures about global warming, its deniers, the media, and what we need to do to fix it, Kingsolver's latest creation is an intelligent look at curiosity, wonder, and the insecurity of being human.