I started Flight Behavior several months ago. Then I started it again . . . and again. I finally finished it last night, a day after we discussed it at book group. Somehow, I struggled to get past the first chapter, in which protagonist Dellarobia Turnbow was hiking up the mountain behind her Tennessee home to an assignation with a hot young telephone lineman. She turns back after seeing the mountainside pulsing with a glowing and rippling orange color. She doesn't know what she is seeing because she isn't wearing her glasses (her mother-in-law Hester's adages about girls who wear glasses ring in her head), but she sees it as an alarm waking her to the mistake she is about to make.
Dellarobia married Cub (whose dad's name is Bear) when she was 17 and pregnant. Although the baby came early and died, they stayed married, and 11 years later they have a son and daughter, Preston and Cordelia. They live on the corner of her in-law's property, where Dellarobia feels trapped and engages in serial crushes. The cash-strapped family is planning to log on the mountain, but when others wearing their glasses see the orange phenomenon--millions of Monarch butterflies roosting in Tennessee instead of Mexico--the plans are put on hold.
The discovery of the Monarchs has ripple effects. Scientists, led by the charismatic Ovid Byron (Dellarobia's next crush), come to the mountain to study the butterflies and providing Dellarobia with her first paid job in years. Members of local churches think the butterflies are a sign of special grace from God. Tourists flock to the mountain, giving Hester income opportunities beyond her sheep. As Dellarobia becomes involved in the scientists' investigations, she also becomes increasingly aware of the emptiness of her marriage. The problems in her personal ecosystem echo those in the butterflies'--whether either she or the butterflies will ultimately have a positive solution is not completely resolved.
Barbara Kingsolver is a biologist by training and weaves a lot of information about environmental issues into the narrative--something that many members of our book group really enjoyed. Some were also moved by Dellarobia's evolution while others found her less than fully engaging. I fell into the latter group--I just didn't care very much about Dellarobia and, because of that, felt the book's pace was much too slow. Like my book group friend Amber, I longed for the multiple narrators and less straightforward chronology of some of Kingsolver's earlier works. Her Prodigal Summer also deals with environmental issues but is a more rewarding read.
Dellarobia felt an entirely new form of panic as she watched her son love nature so expectantly, wondering if he might be racing toward a future like some complicated sand castle that was crumbling under the ride. She didn't know how scientists bore such knowledge. People had to manage terrible truths.
. . . the weeds were still here, it was plain to see, encircling the whole pasture, threaded through wire and post and skeletal trees. With their glassy stems encased in ice the weeds looked more substantial than the fence itself, the seasons of secret growth revealed in a sudden disclosure of terrible, cold beauty.