Barbara Kingsolver does not disappoint, and her family-centered tale of butterflies, “Flight Behavior,” is no exception.
The author sets the scene in rural Tennessee, where young Dellarobia resides on a sheep farm that is manned by her husband and his parents. She raises their two young children and keeps house, restlessly, while their financial and social situations are in a constant state of flux. She is deeply unhappy when she comes across a massive swarm of butterflies on some farmland that was going to be sold to a logging company.
The story of the butterflies and Dellarobia (yes, it’s quite a name) are woven together and their motivations are explored in great detail as we learn how the young woman ended up married and living on a farm, under the thumb of her in-laws. She tells her story to a team of researchers who are attempting to glean why the butterflies chose this particular farm after their normal migratory destination in Mexico was destroyed.
One aspect of this tale that I found particularly intriguing was the sense of urgency behind decoding the butterflies’ migratory changes, while the people just slogged around in the status quo. Dellarobia and her mother in law, Hester, exchange some choice words in a few scenes while comparing reasons for dissatisfaction with their lives. They’re super slow to make any kind of change, however, while the scientists rush around and put in long, laborious hours to find out every single detail possible about the butterflies.
Kingsolver’s words are lyrical in their nature; while she is wordy each word is worth it. She adopts a down home, rural style of prose for this book, including this gem of an observation: “…But then, there was raising. That had to be taken into account. What could a doormat rear but a pair of boots?” She has a keen eye for description and applies that skill to both storylines – the perilous state of the monarchs as they fight for survival in a strange land, and the daily struggle of Dellarobia to accept her lot in life while aspiring for more. “Rebelliousness ran in families too, Hester told her. Everything ran in the genes, to be culled or preserved at will. ‘It’s no good to complain about your flock,’ she advised. ‘A flock is nothing but the put-together of all your past choices.'”
Compelling, concerning, and relatable, “Flight Behavior” may stay with you long after you put it down.