Just as I was finishing Barbara Kinsolver's latest novel, Flight Behavior, the news of the strange deaths of thousands of bees in Oregon. It seems that pesticides used on the trees around this parking lot have left residues that kill the bees on contact.
Ecologists tot the event up to just another terrible indication of what a mess we are making of the world.
Kingsolver would not disagree, nor would she hold out any false hope that there might be a quick and easy fix.
In this novel, she tells the story of a young woman--bright and stuck in a dead-end marriage and a dead-end town--who comes across a glorious manifestation of things gone wrong: millions of Monarch butterflies who should be wintering in Mexico but who have turned up in Tennesee. As the months pass, this amazing phenomena becomes world famous, attracting a handful of dedicated researchers as well as scores of curiosity seekers.
For the first 50 pages of the novel, I was annoyed by Kingsolver, who may live in Tennesee but who is far from an uneducated hill person, purporting to tell us what her heroine Dellarobia Turnbow was thinking. But Kingsolver has an excellent ear, and Dellarobia's voice comes through loud, clear, and funny. Kingsolver also shows great delicacy in depicting the pride of people who have hardscrabble lives. In the end, she weaves together the many strands of the story into a convincing tale of personal awakening on the part of Dellarobia and public recognition of the damage we've done and are doing to the earth.
One very large quibble, though: the scientist-in-chief who comes to study the wayward butterflies is a handsome, intelligent and very black man from one of the US Virgin Islands. That he is accepted so immediately by Dellarobia and her family seems to me to be very unlikely. After the initial description of him, very little is made of his colour until toward the end of the book when a group of kindergartners come to see the butterflies. One of them asks if he's the president, and he asks back: is it because of the colour of my skin? No, the child says, because you're wearing a tie.
That's cute, maybe too cute.
But the novel is worth reading until late in the night: I finished it well after 1 a.m. because I had to keep going to see what happens. Hint: the ending is almost Biblical.
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