“It looked as if some other world had touched this one and bled orange.”
Beyond exhaust emissions and melting ice caps lies another side of climate change: the alteration of an ecosystem. This is a topical issue not quite as publicly prominent, yet equally worthy of concern. Barbara Kingsolver masterfully brings this phenomenon to our attention in her latest novel, Flight Behaviour. Most notable for her bestselling The Poisonwood Bible and Orange Prize-winning The Lacuna, Kingsolver has crafted a piece of intimate storytelling that brings essential environmental issues into focus by highlighting the natural and social effects of climate change through the context of a small-town community, ultimately leading to a worldwide scale.
Dellarobia Turnbow is a twentysomething mother who struggles to cope with her confining marriage, living with her husband and in-laws on a run-down family farm in the Appalachian Mountains. Feathertown, a fictional community in Eastern Tennessee, is a side of America not frequently glorified in the media; it is shabby, too small, and claustrophobic by nature. Kingsolver’s own knowledge of conservative Bible Belt dynamics is clearly present, an indicator of the down-to-earth, relatable style that is a trademark of her novels. The author has created characters so empathetic that they are almost tangible, even to a reader who has never ventured to the rustic, rural areas of American South.
…to come face to face with a terrifyingly beautiful occurrence…
Nonetheless, it is the strange mystery of nature that causes the characters to reveal their inner motives. One crisp day Dellarobia encounters the sudden migration of thousands of bright orange butterflies to part of her family land. This in turn forces the entire community to come face to face with a terrifyingly beautiful occurrence that requires their immediate attention. With that, the appearance of an otherwise ‘foreign’ scientist, Ovid Byron – you get used to the names – causes Dellarobia to call her own self-worth and perspective of her surroundings into question.
Throughout the novel Kingsolver notably draws upon her own scientific background and although Flight Behaviour is fictitious, Kingsolver makes it clear that the biological circumstances are entirely plausible, which all the more intensifies the reader’s need to take environmental action. Thankfully, the novel never becomes too academic or weepy; the prose maintains an engaging and thought-provoking quality and the fluid imagery is sweeping yet intimately delicate.
…shearing the sheep and shopping with the kids…
Even though the novel reads quickly, it could do with some trimming. Some technicalities of shearing the sheep and shopping with the kids, Preston and Cordelia, can become tedious and hinder the novel’s pace. With that, some puns and conversations over text message border on the edge of contrived. But these instances and the occasional sag are permissible as Kingsolver’s grounded, convincing construction of character and plot remain intact throughout.
An ambitious feat well captured in an appropriate cultural and timely setting, Flight Behaviour effectively calls us to action by demonstrating that some of the most drastic effects of climate change could be taking place in our own backyards.
Flight Behaviour is published by Faber & Faber.