Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Flight Behavior, by B. Kingsolver

The new year starts with a powerful book for my book club, Flight Behavior by B. Kingsolver.  I had not read any of her books, and was very interested in the plot.  The majority of my book club had read other books by the author, namely the Poisonwood Bible, so I got to be the sole neutral reader of the book.  This helped in many ways my reading as I did not know what to expect - although in many ways, it simply confirmed the views discussed during our meeting.

In Flight Behavior, we follow the life of Dellarobia in the midst of Feathertown, Tennessee.  I'm not aware of this region, but I can well imagine a tiny area, in many ways isolated from main cities and the offers for work and information.  The microcosm that exists has on the top of the hierarchy the few people who rule and set out the procedures to be followed - in this case, Hester, the mother-in-law; the "awe" and sometimes fear of the local church and the shallowness of the "respectful" people there would also be present:

"If Hester and Bear had bad luck, like the winter of terrible chest colds they'd suffered last year, they blamed the repairman who failed to fix the furnace and changed them anyway.  But when the Cooks' little boy was diagnosed with cancer the same winter, Hester implied God was a party to the outcome"

Dellarobia knows she does not belong there -  and she desperately tries to break free, in her own way. Her fate changes when she discovers a colony of butterflies clustering on trees.  Instantly, her discovery becomes a sensation, her town the centre of attention and Dellarobia is faced with her worst enemy:  herself.  She rediscovers her interest in doing more than she's expected, to further pursuing her education and finally to breaking out of her misery.

Monarch butterflies on tree trunk (credit)
While I suppose the author also wanted to make a stong  statement about climate change and its effect on biodiversity with the case of monarch butterflies, I must admit I found this part of the book the weakest.  I could not be convinced by the story, though I comprehend the seriousness of the issue. The speed with which measures were taken, the TV channels pestering the whole community, academics living in their yard for observation purposes, all this was too good to be true - still, it provided a good platform for the rest of the story, which simply blew me away.  The suffocation a member of society must feel when she knows she does not fit in, that she cannot abide by the prescribed rules and procedures.  I could sympathise with Dellarobia and came to appreciate how priviledged I am, for having been able to get a good education, for having a family who supported my wishes - and for living in a society large enough to have a relative anonymity, thus avoiding this "obligation" to behave in a certain manner just because everyone knows everyone else.

Another important point in the book was this "clash" between the people of the cities and the "rednecks".  The academics and the plain ones.  However advanced our society may be regarded, this is one area where we haven't made any progress at all.  The ones stay clear of the others and when they have to meet, this is for straightforward, neutral activities (serving coffee, perhaps?).  Dellarobia gets her chance to help out Prof. Byron because, as she puts it, they met on neutral ground.  Would he have even thought of her helping out were she to be waiting on him?  Probably not.  The fact remains, however, that she does get this chance and from then on she can't go back.  

Dellarobia cannot go back to a simplified method of regarding things:  Butterflies disappear, the good Lord will supply new ones.  A child is stillborn, a father dead in his prime - this also is the Lord's business.  A TV presenter is preaching one side of the story - we plead allegiance to them and regard everything as true.  Worry about the environment? 
"Worries like that are not for people like us"
I found this book to be a declaration on the importance of knowledge - we can no longer afford to remain naive and believe everything will be alright.  We have to pose questions and remain curious about what is happening around us - what will have an effect on our lives, but most importantly, what will have an effect on the next generation.  One small step that we do will have an impact on the person next to us, and their small step will continue having an impact until we all become aware of the world we live in.

Should we find ourselves trapped in a society that does not support this mode of thinking, I'm afraid will need all the strength we can get, gather our dear friends (who believe in us) around us and run - run as fast as we can...


  1. I really liked every books I've read by BK (and I've read about 5) - this sounds really interesting, especially because I can't resist a story about a small Southern town.

    1. The story is told really beautifully - you definitely have to read this one!

  2. I got this for my birthday and am approaching it with some resistance - I haven't read anything by this author and the book is so long! :-) I like the environment aspect, sounds interesting.

    1. True, some parts could have been shorter...




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