Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Date Published: June 4, 2013
Pages: 464 Pages
How I Heard About It: TLC Book Tours and the publisher kindly provided an advance reader's copy for review in hardback.
Two Sentence Summary: Dellarobia Turnbow, a 28 year old mother of two and farmer's wife, has begun to feel an overwhelming urge to escape her increasingly narrow Appalachian life. Just as she is about to throw in the towel, to seek out upheaval for the sake of mere change, she discovers an environmental anomaly (part miracle, part bleak omen of a failing planet) that unleashes a flurry of media attention, scientific investigations, and unavoidable insight into her community and herself.
"She was embarrassed to invite these people into her house, that was the long and short of it. A man living in a motor vehicle, the others maybe rooming next to a meth lab, but still Dellarobia couldn't bear how they would see her life. Like the country-music diner they called "vile." If these kids didn't know a zipper could be replaced, they surely had not seen the likes of her Corelle plates and stained carpet and pillow strewn rooms.
Her every possession was either unbreakable, or broken."
Things I Think: For innumerable reasons, this novel is going to be one of the best books of 2013. Prolific writer Barbara Kingsolver (author of 7 other novels, 3 nonfiction books, and even a collection of poetry) has certainly lived up to her reputation as an iconic literary figure of our era.
From a personal perspective, I was immediately attached to the story because it is one to which I can relate. Dellarobia and I are the same age, and I have spent a great deal of time in the environment in which she exists. The beauty of rural, Appalachian foothill communities, coupled with the stifling lack of diversity and opportunity, is a juxtaposition with which I am both familiar and have occasionally struggled. Kingsolver's capability to illuminate the geographic location is no surprise, as she herself was raised in rural Kentucky. Her ability to write with the voice of a 28 year old "woman of today" was absolutely impressive to me; the author has proven, both within this one book and over the arc of her writing career, that she can convincingly adopt specific lexicons to create realism in her characters.
There is a beautiful undercurrent of spirituality that runs throughout the novel. Admittedly, I often shy away from "spiritual quest" narratives, but in this case, it evolves with masterful delicacy. Dellarobia's increasing involvement in a natural phenomenon on her family's property is a gateway into a much larger consciousness, both ecological and humanitarian. The escape she needed from her established path arrives, though in a form she would have never anticipated: millions of monarch butterflies, heralding the undeniable arrival of climate change on our planet.
This is a book I was sad to finish. Thank goodness there is such a vast Kingsolver catalogue which I can continue to explore.