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Flight Behavior (Kingsolver)

Flight Behavior
Barbara Kingsolver, 2012
HarperCollins
464 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780062124272



Summary
Flight Behavior transfixes from its opening scene, when a young woman's narrow experience of life is thrown wide with the force of a raging fire. In the lyrical language of her native Appalachia, Barbara Kingsolver bares the rich, tarnished humanity of her novel's inhabitants and unearths the modern complexities of rural existence. Characters and reader alike are quickly carried beyond familiar territory here, into the unsettled ground of science, faith, and everyday truces between reason and conviction.

Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire.

She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.

Flight Behavior takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world.  (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—April 8, 1955
Where—Annapolis, Maryland, USA
Education—B.A., DePauw University; M.S., University of 
   Arizona
Awards—Orange Prize
Currently—lives on a farm in Virginia


Barbara Kingsolver was born on April 8, 1955. She grew up "in the middle of an alfalfa field," in the part of eastern Kentucky that lies between the opulent horse farms and the impoverished coal fields. While her family has deep roots in the region, she never imagined staying there herself. "The options were limited—grow up to be a farmer or a farmer's wife."

Kingsolver has always been a storyteller: "I used to beg my mother to let me tell her a bedtime story." As a child, she wrote stories and essays and, beginning at the age of eight, kept a journal religiously. Still, it never occurred to Kingsolver that she could become a professional writer. Growing up in a rural place, where work centered mainly on survival, writing didn't seem to be a practical career choice. Besides, the writers she read, she once explained, "were mostly old, dead men. It was inconceivable that I might grow up to be one of those myself..."

Kingsolver left Kentucky to attend DePauw University in Indiana, where she majored in biology. She also took one creative writing course, and became active in the last anti-Vietnam War protests. After graduating in 1977, Kingsolver lived and worked in widely scattered places. In the early eighties, she pursued graduate studies in biology and ecology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she received a Masters of Science degree. She also enrolled in a writing class taught by author Francine Prose, whose work Kingsolver admires.

Kingsolver's fiction is rich with the language and imagery of her native Kentucky. But when she first left home, she says, "I lost my accent.... [P]eople made terrible fun of me for the way I used to talk, so I gave it upslowly and became something else." During her years in school and two years spent living in Greece and France she supported herself in a variety of jobs: as an archaeologist, copy editor, X-ray technician, housecleaner, biological researcher and translator of medical documents.

After graduate school, a position as a science writer for the University of Arizona soon led her into feature writing for journals and newspapers. Her numerous articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Nation, the New York Times, and Smithsonian, and many of them are included in the collection, High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never. In 1986 she won an Arizona Press Club award for outstanding feature writing, and in 1995, after the publication of High Tide in Tucson, Kingsolver was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from her alma mater, DePauw University.

Writing
Kingsolver credits her careers in scientific writing and journalism with instilling in her a writer's discipline and broadening her "fictional possiblities." Describing herself as a shy person who would generally prefer to stay at home with her computer, she explains that "journalism forces me to meet and talk with people I would never run across otherwise."

From 1985 through 1987, Kingsolver was a freelance journalist by day, but she was writing fiction by night. Married to a chemist in 1985, she suffered from insomnia after becoming pregnant the following year. Instead of following her doctor's recommendation to scrub the bathroom tiles with a toothbrush, Kingsolver sat in a closet and began to write The Bean Trees, a novel about a young woman who leaves rural Kentucky (accent intact) and finds herself living in urban Tucson.

The Bean Trees, originally published in 1988 and reissued in a special ten-year anniversary edition in 1998, was enthusiastically received by critics. But, perhaps more important to Kingsolver, the novel was read with delight and, even, passion by ordinary readers. "A novel can educate to some extent," she told Publishers Weekly. "But first, a novel has to entertain—that's the contract with the reader: you give me ten hours and I'll give you a reason to turn every page. I have a commitment to accessiblity. I believe in plot. I want an English professor to understand the symbolism while at the same time I want the people I grew up with—who may not often read anything but the Sears catalogue—to read my books."

For Kingsolver, writing is a form of political activism. When she was in her twenties she discovered Doris Lessing. "I read the Children of Violence novels and began to understand how a person could write about the problems of the world in a compelling and beautiful way. And it seemed to me that was the most important thing I could ever do, if I could ever do that."

The Bean Trees was followed by the collection, Homeland and Other Stories (1989), the novels Animal Dreams (1990), and Pigs in Heaven (1993), and the bestselling High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now and Never (1995). Kingsolver has also published a collection of poetry, Another America: Otra America (Seal Press, 1992, 1998), and a nonfiction book, Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of l983 (ILR Press/Cornell University Press, 1989, 1996). The Poisonwood Bible (1998) earned accolades at home and abroad, and was an Oprah's Book Club selection.

Barbara's Prodigal Summer (2000), is a novel set in a rural farming community in southern Appalachia. Small Wonder, April 2002, presents 23 wonderfully articulate essays. Here Barbara raises her voice in praise of nature, family, literature, and the joys of everyday life while examining the genesis of war, violence, and poverty in our world.

Two additional books became best sellers. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle came in 2007, again to great acclaim. Non-fiction, the book recounts a year in the life of Kingsolver's family as they grew all their own food. The Lacuna, published two years later, is a fictional account of historical events in Mexico during the 1930, and moving into the U.S. during the McCarthy era of the 1950's.

Extras
• Barbara Kingsolver lives in Southern Applachia with her husband Steven Hopp, and her two daughters, Camille from a previous marriage, and Lily, who was born in 1996. When not writing or spending time with her family, Barbara gardens, cooks, hikes, and works as an environmental activist and human-rights advocate.

• Given that Barbara Kingsolver's work covers the psychic and geographical territories that she knows firsthand, readers often assume that her work is autobiographical. "There are little things that people who know me might recognize in my novels," she acknowledges. "But my work is not about me...."

• "If you want a slice of life, look out the window. An artist has to look out that window, isolate one or two suggestive things, and embroider them together with poetry and fabrication, to create a revelation. If we can't, as artists, improve on real life, we should put down our pencils and go bake bread." (Adapted from Barnes & Noble.)



Book Reviews
Barbara Kingsolver's majestic and brave new novel... is both intimate and enormous, centered on one woman, one family, one small town no one has ever heard of — until Dellarobia stumbles into a life-altering journey of conscience. How do we live, Kingsolver asks, and with what consequences, as we hurtle toward the abyss in these times of epic planetary transformation?... One of the gifts of a Kingsolver novel is the resplendence of her prose. She takes palpable pleasure in the craft of writing, creating images that stay with the reader long after her story is done.... A majestic and brave new novel.
Dominique Browining - New York Times Book Review


Kingsolver has written one of the more thoughtful novels about the scientific, financial and psychological intricacies of climate change. And her ability to put these silent, breathtakingly beautiful butterflies at the center of this calamitous and noisy debate is nothing short of brilliant. <em >Flight Behavior isn't trying to reform recalcitrant consumers or make good liberals feel even more pious about carpooling—so often the purview of environmental fiction—it's just trying to illuminate the mysterious interplay of the natural world and our own conflicted hearts.
Ron Charles - Washington Post


With her powerful new novel, Kingsolver (The Lacuna) delivers literary fiction that conveys an urgent social message. Set in a rural Tennessee that has endured unseasonal rain, the plot explores the effects of a bizarre biological event on a Bible Belt community. The sight that young wife and mother Dellarobia Turnbow comes upon—millions of monarch butterflies glowing like a “lake of fire” in a sheep pasture owned by her in-laws—is immediately branded a miracle, and promises a lucrative tourist season for the financially beleaguered Turnbows. But the arrival of a research team led by sexy scientist Ovid Byron reveals the troubling truth behind the butterflies’ presence: they’ve been driven by pollution from their usual Mexican winter grounds and now face extinction due to northern hemisphere temperatures. Equally threatening is the fact that her father-in-law, Bear, has sold the land to loggers. Already restless in her marriage to the passive Cub, for whom she gave up college when she became pregnant at 17, unsophisticated, cigarette-addicted Dellarobia takes a mammoth leap when she starts working with the research team. As her horizons expand, she faces a choice between the status quo and, perhaps, personal fulfillment. Spunky Dellarobia is immensely appealing; the caustic view she holds of her husband, in-laws, and neighbors, the self-deprecating repartee she has with her best friend Dovey, and her views about the tedium of motherhood combined with a loving but clear-eyed appraisal of her own children invest the narrative with authenticity and sparkling humor. Kingsolver also animates and never judges the uneducated, superstitious, religiously devout residents of Feathertown. As Dellarobia flees into a belated coming-of-age, which becomes the ironic outcome of the Monarchs’ flight path to possible catastrophe in the collapse of a continental ecosystem, the dramatic saga becomes a clarion call about climate change, too lucid and vivid for even skeptics to ignore.
Publishers Weekly


Dellarobia Turnbow is in a perpetual state of fight or flight. Married at 17 to kind, dull Cub, she finds even the satisfaction of motherhood small consolation for the stultifying existence on her in-laws' struggling Tennessee sheep farm. When a fluke of nature upends the monotony of her life, Dellarobia morphs into the church's poster child for a miracle, an Internet phenomenon, and a woman on the verge of unexpected opportunity as scientists, reporters, and ecotourists converge on the Turnbow property. Orange Prize winner Kingsolver (The Lacuna) performs literary magic, generously illuminating both sides of the culture wars, from the global-warming debate to public eduction in America. It's a joy to watch Dellarobia and her precocious son, Preston, blossom under the tutelage of entomologist Ovid Byron. Verdict: Like E.O. Wilson in his novel Anthill, Kingsolver draws upon her prodigious knowledge of the natural world to enlighten readers about the intricacies of the migration patterns of monarch butterflies while linking their behavior to the even more fascinating conduct of the human species. Highly recommended. —Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL
Library Journal


Dellarobia thought she would escape a future of grim rural poverty by attending college. Instead, she got pregnant and married. Now 27, feeling stifled by the responsibility of two young children she loves and a husband she tolerates, Dellarobia...happens upon a forested valley taken over by a host of brilliant orange butterflies...have landed in Tennessee because their usual winter habitat in Mexico has been flooded out.... Soon, a handsome black scientist with a Caribbean accent has set up in her barn to study the beautiful phenomena, which he says may spell environmental doom. Dellarobia is attracted to the sophisticated, educated world Dr. Byron and his grad school assistants represent...[y]et, she is fiercely defensive against signs of condescension toward her family and neighbors.... One of Kingsolver's better efforts at preaching her politics and pulling heartstrings at the same time.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. What is the significance of the novel's title? Talk about the imagery of flight. How is it represented throughout the story?

2. How do the chapter titles relate both to scientific concepts as well as the events that unfold within each chapter itself?

3. Describe Dellarobia. How is she of this mountain town in Tennessee and how is she different from it? How are she and her family connected to the land and to nature itself? How are they disconnected? How does this shape their viewpoints? How does she describe herself? Do you agree with her self-assessment?

4. Talk about the characters names—Dellarobia, Preston, Cordelia, Dovey, Ovid Byron, Cub, Bear, Hester. How does the author's choice of nomenclature suit her characters? When you first meet these characters, including Pastor Bobby, what were your first impressions? Were your notions about them challenged as the story progressed?

5. Describe the small town in Tennessee where Dellarobia lives. What are the people like? Are they familiar to you? What is everyday life like for them? What are their major joys and concerns? How you strike a balance between protecting nature when your livelihood depends upon its destruction?

6. Talk about Della's relationships with the various people in her life: Cub, Hester, Pastor Bobby, Dovey, Ovid Byron. What do her experiences teach her about herself and life?

7. How does Della react when she first sees the Monarchs? What greater meaning do the butterflies hold for her? How is she like the butterflies? How does finding them transform her life? Were the butterflies a miracle?

8. As news of her discovery spreads, what are the reactions of her in-laws and her neighbors? How do they view Della? What are their impressions of the scientists and tourists who descend upon their remote town?

9. What does Dellarobia think about her new friends, and especially Ovid Byron? What about the scientists—how do they view people like Della, her family, and her neighbors? Does either side see they other realistically?

10. Cub and his father, Bear, want to sell the patch of forest where the Monarchs are to a lumber company for clear-cutting. What ramifications would this have, not only for the butterflies but for Della's family and her town? Why is it often difficult for people see the long-term effects of their immediate actions? Cub doesn't consider conserving nature to be his problem. What might you say to convince him otherwise?

11. Though she may not have a formal education beside her high school diploma, would you call Dellarobia wise? Where does her knowledge come from? Is she religious? Their Christian faith is very important to many of her neighbors. How does Barbara Kingsolver portray religion, faith, and God in the novel? What are your impressions of Pastor Bobby?

12. Della tells Ovid that...

Kids in Feathertown wouldn't know college-bound from a hole in the ground. They don't need it for life around here. College is kind of irrelevant.

Why isn't college important to these people? Should it be? Would you say the people of Feathertown respect education? Why is faith and instinct enough for some people? When she explained this to Ovid,

His eyes went wide, as if she'd mentioned they boiled local children alive. His shock gave her a strange satisfaction she could not have explained. Insider status, maybe.

Explain her attitude. Yet Dellarobia also believes that, "educated people had powers. What does she mean by this? How does education empower people? Can it also blind them?

13. After Dellarobia's parents died, what options did she have? She wanted to go to school—and did try—she tells Ovid.

People who hadn't been through it would think it was that simple: just get back on the bus, ride to the next stop. He would have no inkling of the great slog of effort that tied up people like her in the day to day. Or the quaking misgivings that infected every step forward, after a loss. Even now, dread still struck her down sometimes if she found herself counting on things being fine. Meaning her now-living children and their future, those things. She had so much more to lose now than just herself or her own plans.

What are the factors that hold back people in Dellarobia's circumstances? How can they be overcome? How is each character's ideas about the future colored by his or her circumstances?

14. Flight Behavior illuminates the conflicting attitudes of different classes towards nature and the idea of climate change. How does each side see this issue? Where do they find common ground? Do you believe in global warming or climate change? Explain the basis of your beliefs. How much do you know about both the proponents and opponents in this debate?

15. Why do so many Americans fear or dislike science? Why do so many others fear or dislike religion? What impact do these attitudes have on the nation now and what do they portend for our future?

16. For Dellarobia...

Nobody truly decided for themselves, there was too much information. What they actually did was scope around, decide who was looking out for their clan, and sign on for the memos on a wide array of topics.

Do you agree that this is a fair assessment of a divided America? How can we get beyond our judgments and stereotypes?

17. How is media both a help and a hindrance in our understanding of social issues? How does it offer clarity and how does it add confusion? How is the media portrayed in Flight Behavior? What impact does it have on Dellarobia and the fate of the butterflies? People are envious that the media pays attention to Dellarobia, yet she says being interviewed was like, "having her skin peeled off." Why are so many people consumed by a desire for fame?

18. Ovid has doubts about his work. He asks Dellarobia:

What was the use of saving a world that had no soul left in it. Continents without butterflies, seas without coral reefs, he meant. What if all human effort amounted basically to saving a place for ourselves to park?

How would you answer him?

19. Flight Behavior interweaves important themes: religion and science, poverty and wealth, education and instinct or faith, intolerance and acceptance, How are these themes used to complement each other and how do they conflict? Choose one theme and trace it throughout the novel, explaining how it illuminates a particular character's life.

20. At the end of the novel, Dellarobia recalls when Ovid Byron first met Preston and declared the boy a scientist.

A moment, Dellarobia now believed, that changed Preston's life. You never knew which split second might be the zigzag bolt dividing all that went before from everything that comes next.

Have you ever had such a defining moment in your life? Was there a special person who influenced you and helped guide or shift the course of your life?

21. What do you think will happen to Dellarobia, Preston, and Cordelia?

22. What did you take away from reading Flight Behavior?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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