Dellarobia Turnbow finds herself in a life she never would have chosen. When she was just 17 and the only college-bound student in her tiny graduating class, she became pregnant first and then married Cub, a slow-moving farmer whose idea of a great evening is channel-surfing. Although that first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, Dellarobia now has two children: five-year-old Preston and nearly-two-year-old Cordelia. Cub and Dellarobia live in a two-bedroom house built on the corner of Cub's parents' farmland. They are always-behind-in-their-bills dirt-poor. Although Dellarobia loves her children, she is impatient with her marriage and her confined life. As a distraction, she falls in and out of crushes with various men. She never has truly acted on these flirtations --- until today.
While Dellarobia climbs the mountain near her home, she anticipates meeting Jimmy, the young telephone repairman she has been flirting with: "A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture."
"FLIGHT BEHAVIOR is a vibrant coming-of-age tale as well as an unsettling (actually, more than unsettling; “terrifying” is the word that comes to mind) commentary on climate change, starring the sassy, imperfect and sympathetic Dellarobia."
Still, while desire thrills her body in waves, she also feels shame. She won't allow herself to think of her two young children, being watched by her hard-hearted mother-in-law. She knows her actions today may well destroy her kids' family. Yet she cannot resist meeting handsome, admiring Jimmy. She slips and slides in the pretty boots she bought second-hand for the tryst; they are not up to an Appalachian mountain trail sodden with the recent heavy rains. She also has left her glasses behind as she climbs toward her rendezvous with passion. She squints to bring a floating fuzzy orange object into focus and decides it's a butterfly.
Finally, short of breath, she arrives at the top of the mountain. There, she notices bizarre, scaly clumps hanging from the trees and decides they must be a fungus; with wetter summers and warmer winters, local plants have acquired new pests and diseases. But when she looks out at the valley, sunshine strikes the trees. They are lit with orange light, as if on fire. It is nearly a religious experience. Suddenly, Dellarobia sees her infatuation with Jimmy in a cold, hard light. It is as if the eerie golden glow has appeared in order to stop her from ruining her life. She can and will turn back toward home.
When Cub informs Dellarobia that his father has signed a contract to have the mountain logged in order to make a balloon payment on equipment for his machine shop, Dellarobia is aghast, hinting that Cub needs to walk up to the top of the mountain to check it out before it's clear-cut. After he sees it, he insists she go up with him. That's when Dellarobia realizes that the golden glow is a tremendous swarm of monarch butterflies. Soon, Cub announces at church that Dellarobia foresaw a miracle, which incites a media storm centered upon her. Yet the true transformation of Dellarobia's mind and life are still to come, when scientists arrive to explain the unusual phenomenon.
FLIGHT BEHAVIOR is a vibrant coming-of-age tale as well as an unsettling (actually, more than unsettling; “terrifying” is the word that comes to mind) commentary on climate change, starring the sassy, imperfect and sympathetic Dellarobia. Barbara Kingsolver, the Pulitzer Prize finalist and beloved author of THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, once worked as a scientist and is a farmer today. Her depictions of butterfly experts and sheep farmers are educational and fascinating. This multi-layered story of a woman finding her way in life, wrapped in a larger theme about the world in which we live, is a page-turning triumph. It is both entertaining and important --- and not to be missed.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on November 9, 2012