Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Dellarobia Turnbow spent her high school years dreaming of life beyond her home in the Southern Appalachians. However, the prospect of college and financial stability is abruptly shattered by an unexpected pregnancy at the age of seventeen. After a shotgun wedding, Dellarobia ultimately suffers a miscarriage. In spite of the loss, the two decide to give the marriage a shot, despite Dellarobia’s nagging misgivings. Ten years later, she finds herself with two young children, a boring marriage to the kind but dumb Cub, and a devastatingly intense crush on a younger man.

Just as Dellarobia is on the brink of a sexual transgression, she has a borderline religious experience – the land owned by her in-laws in the wooded mountains turns out to be an Indian Burial Ground with mystical powers! Nope. It is merely covered in butterflies in a way that Kingsolver repeatedly describes as resembling a “lake of fire.” We come to learn that this particular type of Monarch butterfly typically migrates to Mexico, but for some reason they have wound up in Dellarobia’s backyard. Added to the mix is an attractive and intriguing butterfly research scientist, who ignites her brain in addition to her overactive hormones (seriously, this woman seems to develop obsessive thoughts towards anything with a penis, except her husband, that is). As Dellarobia pursues an existence outside of her housewife role, she finds herself increasingly reluctant to return to her pre-butterfly lifestyle. Uncertainty similarly plagues the precipitous fate of the butterflies, as well as the foreboding implications surrounding the misplaced migration.

Although Dellarobia is in a complicated situation, it is often difficult to sympathize with her rationale. She has endured legitimate heartbreak and obstacles in her lifetime; yet, it is virtually impossible to actually like this woman as a character. Something is just off about her; whether it is her blatant disregard for her husband’s feelings or her disturbing nonchalance towards her children, it is genuinely a struggle to root for her success.

This is the first time I have read one of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels, and frankly, it has left me scratching my head. From what I understand, Kingsolver’s work is critically acclaimed, but if Flight Behavior is an accurate glimpse into her body of work, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. The novel was not bad, but rather strikingly average. Kingsolver portrays a woman unhappy with her life’s decisions and thereby on the brink of rectifying the situation. OK, that’s great. Good for you. But, she does not take into consideration the impact this will have on her husband or, sadly, on her children. If this novel was about a man in a stale marriage wanting to start anew, I suspect people would react differently. He’d undoubtedly be judged harshly for abandoning his responsibilities, for discarding his wife and kids. For some reason, though, because the situation is reversed, Kingsolver implies that Dellarobia should be revered for her sudden self-interest. It’s too bad Kingsolver refuses to bestow this sort of reverence on those left to clean up the mess that Dellarobia leaves behind on her selfish path to self-discovery.


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