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Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. Harper Collins. New York. 2012. 436 pgs.

13438524Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel Flight Behavior is set in Feathertown, Tennessee, a fictitious rural outpost in the Appalachian Mountains. Its central characters are Dellarobia, a high school drop out and her lummox of a husband Cub, their two children, precocious five-year-old Preston and two-year-old Cordelia, Cub’s controlling parents Bear and Hester, Dellarobia’s smart aleck friend Dovey, and Ovid Byron an entomologist and professor from New Mexico.

Oh and butterflies: millions and millions of monarch butterflies who, it appears, have lost their way and are now slogging through a drenching Southern winter clinging together in giant bundles in the forest above the family’s farm. As Byron—a monarch specialist who finds out about this unprecedented aggregation from a newspaper clipping—studies their strange behavior (the butterflies are, in fact thousands of miles from their normal wintering ground in Michoacan, Mexico), dispirited Dellarobia, the discoverer of the butterflies and now minor celebrity, works on how to rewrite her life. Other characters include a snippy CNN reporter, 350.org field representatives, graduate students and a group of English activist knitters.

Flight Behavior is a well crafted novel of literary weight (although there are a few too many similes for my taste). There are spot-on swipes at upper middle class LL Bean-clad “ecowarriors” which contrast realistically with a pretty gritty examination of living poor—including a finely nuanced explanation of why fundamentalism offers such a potent anecdote.

But the most important message of Flight Behavior, and it comes through loud and clear, is that the culprit disrupting the butterfly’s life support systems as well as the weirding weather Feathertown’s experiencing, is global climate change.

I know I should like, no love, this book. Any and every time an author makes climate change the center of the conversation with passion and grave sadness I know I should rejoice.

But somehow, in this case, it just doesn’t work. Nature or environment as a character in novels, sure. The novel as a right vehicle for informing readers about climate change? Not so much.

(AE note: I know I have stepped out of geographical bounds to review this book but, for me, climate change brings it back Home on the Range.)

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