by Sofia Andrewski
Dellarobia lives in poverty on a farm in the Appalachians in Tennessee, and is forced into an early marriage by an unplanned pregnancy. On the way to meet with her extra-marital lover she stumbles across a mind-blowing sight: the forest near her family’s land is blazing like a fire, but instead of flames it is thousands of Monarch butterflies that light the branches.
Despite the beauty before her, Dellarobia soon realises she is not witnessing a miracle, but a sign of a disintegrating climate. But fighting the short-sighted schemes of her fellow countrymen is more than a challenge where money is involved—and the community is forced to choose between alleviating their poverty or the survival of a species.
Kingsolver graduated with a science degree in biology and ecology, and these themes permeate Flight Behaviour. The extreme rural setting helps to encapsulate the story and the message into a coherent whole, like a snow-globe separates a scene from the outside world. This is somewhat ironic considering that the core message is not an isolated issue, but one that applies to the whole planet as a biological system in its own right.
The text skilfully records the micro-moments of Dellarobia’s claustrophobic life whilst constantly underlining the reality of an impending environmental catastrophe. In addition, the author utilises a range of characters, often from very different positions in the social hierarchy, to illustrate the problems of social justice and responsibility that face humanity.
For example, Dellarobia’s husband Cub is an uneducated but good-natured bumpkin, and simply doesn’t grasp the enormity of the unusual weather, whereas the affluent scientist Ovid—who comes to investigate the sudden butterfly migration—fully understands the implications but does not grasp the social idiosyncrasies of the farming communities.
The healthy mix of opinion given by different characters helps Kingsolver to avoid preachiness and she portrays the interplay between the religious and scientific elements of the book with both accuracy and fairness. The reader finishes the story with an unnerving sense of its reality; we only need look out the window to see evidence of the same bizarre weather that Dellarobia faces in the novel. There is a sense of recognition, partly because Flight Behaviour was published in 2012, and partly because Kingsolver chooses to focus on modern themes: climate change is interwoven with social disparity and how the media screens the information we receive.
Even though the story focuses on this at its centre, the plot is personal as the reader follows Dellarobia’s often mundane but identifiable life, and the style of writing does not lack good doses of humour. It is an enjoyable, meaningful read, and hard to forget.