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November 8, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Set in a small Tennessee town, Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel, follows Dellarobia Turnbow, the young chain-smoking heroine who undergoes a strange journey of personal awakening. The story that follows questions the relationship among humans, climate change and God.
A restless young mother of two, Turnbow feels trapped by the pressures from her small-town community, her in-laws’ failing sheep farm and her marriage to high-school sweetheart, Cub. Spurred by her discontent and grasping at happiness, Turnbow begins a flirtation with a younger man.
But on her way to meet him in a nearby hunting lodge, she comes across a forested valley emanating a cool red flame. Because the flame doesn’t consume the forest, Turnbow believes the strange sight is a Biblical miracle. She soon learns the disturbing truth — the flickering field is the result of a bizarre biological event. Millions of glowing Monarch butterflies fled from their native habitat because of pollution. The critters now face extinction.
A native Southerner and farmer herself, Kingsolver’s first-hand knowledge of farm life and Appalachian culture bring an authentic feel to the novel. The believability is further accentuated by the simple elegance of her writing. For city dwellers, her descriptions of shearing days and small-town religious zealotry might even seem exotic.
At its core, Flight Behavior questions faith over science and the power of belief. Some of Kingsolver’s potent characters believe that the “lake of fire” is a miracle and evidence of God while others believe it’s a natural disaster and evidence of the changing natural world.
Flight Behavior dissects human fear and our place in the biological world and brings greater themes of environmental stewardship to light.