Book Notes | ‘Flight Behavior’ by Barbara Kingsolver

The seventh novel by Barbara Kingsolver, published in 2012, opens by introducing us to Dellarobia as she is sneaking off for a tryst with a younger man. Dellarobia is a woman who feels trapped in an unfulfilling marriage to her rather dull husband, Cub, and by her dreary life in a poverty-stricken Appalachian town in rural Tennessee. As she walks up the hill to meet her would-be lover, she comes upon a sight that, in the end, will change her life and the lives of her family.

What Dellarobia sees is the mass flocking of millions of monarch butterflies. This displacement of butterflies that for decades gathered in Mexico was considered a miracle by some. But it was considered a disaster by a distinguished entomologist, Ovid Byron, who came to conduct research on the butterflies to better understand the reasons for their change in migration patterns. The butterflies also brought to the area tourists, well-meaning environmentalists, a group of butterfly knitters, and a reporter from CNN.  

Dellarobia is hired by Ovid to be a lab assistant, and this opens her eyes to life’s possibilities. As she gains confidence in herself and a better understanding of climate change and its affects on the environment, she reflects on her community, her life in that community, and her needs to be independent of it.

Kingsolver delves into the pressures of striving to be an individual while living in a close-knit community, trying to convince climate change deniers that there is a crisis in their own backyard, and contending with the lack of understanding by the tourists and environmental activists of what it’s like for Dellarobia’s community to be so economically underprivileged. Kingsolver adeptly illuminates all sides of the various culture wars with understanding and grace.

We had an interesting discussion during our June 16 meeting on the multiple layers embedded in the story.

While two people said they did not enjoy the book the other members of the UMRA Book Club loved it and would recommend it to their friends. One person said she could not put the book down and was in awe of Kingsolver’s use of language to paint a picture. Many members commented on reading other Kingsolver books and enjoying them as well.

— Beth Bedell, UMRA Book Club I