Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behaviour started off for me with a sense of déjà vu. There is something about the young character walking up into the forest, the sense that it may be a life changing moment, that evoked a memory of her earlier novel Prodigal Summer. There is something similar between the character of Dellarobia, a young mother of two children, and Deanna, the older wildlife biologist living in the forest, keeping an eye on the threatened coyote species.
Rereading the first line of my review of Prodigal Summer, the connection is obvious:
Animal nature, human nature, bugs and insects, forest life, their dependence and interdependence, habits good and bad and how the balance is affected when death, destruction or any kind of change is introduced; how species adapt, how human beings cope – or don’t – all of this we find in the juxtaposition of creatures assembled from the thoughtful poetic pen of Barbara Kingsolver in Prodigal Summer.
Her latest story tracks another of nature’s creatures whose pattern of migration has changed, attracting scientists, environmentalists and believers. The events of this winter period coincide with Dellarobia’s realisation of what lies beneath her inclination to engage in behaviour likely to destroy her family. She is given the opportunity to work with the scientists and comes to understand that there is an alternative path to changing her life, one that will cause less suffering than the impulsive gesture she was intent on in the first pages.
Flight Behaviour also reminded me a little of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, they are both works of literary scientific fiction, stories that follow a particular ‘what if’ scenario. Kingsolver starts with the facts and then creates a hypothetical scenario, which science is trying to prove is related to climate change.
Just as history is sometimes more appealing to absorb through a well-researched historical novel, so too are certain scientific suppositions. And then there are the reactions of the population and how they sort themselves into like-minded categories, less about the science and more about community, faith, belonging and the short-term survival of families whose basic living may be at odds with the conservation of another of nature’s species.
Kingsolver looks at what motivates humanity to take positions against each other, the tendency to seek only those positions that support their belief system or corporate sponsor, regardless of evidence to the contrary, the challenges of the outsider and the blind acceptance of those who accept their lot without question, living in the present on account of mistakes they’ve made in the past.
An enjoyable novel, though slow going for me, there was something about Prodigal Summer that was urgent and compelling, while this book meandered; comparing the experience of these two books is a little like a reflection of the speed of the creatures in their midst.
Flight Behaviour has been short listed in the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013, Barbara Kingsolver was a recent winner of the prize in 2010 for her excellent novel The Lacuna, one of the first novels reviewed here on Word by Word.