Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

In the opening pages Dellarobia Turnbow climbs the mountain behind her home in her genuine calfskin leather cowboy boots, bought at Second Time Around, which pinch her feet as much as her marriage pinches her soul. She is going to meet Jimmy, the ‘telephone man’ who rubs the ends of her hair and holds her face and kisses her as every wife secretly longs to be kissed even if it is not by her husband.

Perhaps it matters not if we don’t immediately know how her tryst turns out for we are distracted, like Dellarobia, by the glittering movement of fire in the trees. “The forest blazed with its own internal flame…Brightness of a new intensity moved up the valley in a rippling wave, like the disturbed surface of a lake. Every bough glowed with an orange blaze. “Jesus God,” she said again. No words came to her that seemed sane. Trees turned to fire, a burning bush. Moses came to mind, and Ezekiel, words from Scripture that occupied a certain space in her brain but no longer carried honest weight, if they ever had. Burning coals of fire went up and down among the living creatures.” (See Ezekiel 1:13, and know that I love how Barbara flawlessly intersperses scripture within her text.)

She climbs down the mountain forever changed. Some think she has seen a vision, and perhaps she has. She begins to see a glimpse of the life she could have, if its patterns had just followed a different course. The monarch butterflies which have spectacularly landed in Tennessee, from Mexico, illuminate a striking parallel to Dellarobia’s life. For who hasn’t landed in a place which feels all wrong?
Now more than ever she questions everything about her life: her husband’s slow, methodical, passive ways; her mother and father-in-laws’ sheep farm in rural Tennessee, her ten years of marriage and lack of college education all brought about in an effort to make things right. She mourns the loss of the son that precipitated the need for her marriage in the first place; she mourns the life she finds herself living.
Isn’t questioning one’s life the easiest thing to do? Who looks at the details of her life, the petty, daily drudgery, and says, “This is exactly the life I want to live”? Finding oneself in the midst of disappointment, in falling short of one’s dreams, is inevitable. What’s remarkable is how one handles that realization. For there are only two options; to stay and stick it out, or to take flight. I’d like to think that I had more tenacity than a butterfly, an insect which is beautiful and regal and fragile, but all the same soulless. I’d like to think that my flight behavior wouldn’t serve to strengthen me alone, regardless of the routes I felt I had to take.
This is deeply moving novel, a novel written in such a way that every word pierces my heart. I know Dellarobia. I know the life she’s living. I ache with her at the choices she confronts. Flight Behavior made me re-examine my own life choices and wonder at the justification of others’. While crying, literally, for Dellarobia.

24 thoughts on “Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

  1. I've long been wanting to read Barbara Kingsolver without actually getting there – you know how it goes! This is the second glowing review I've read of this novel, so clearly I should consider this one a serious option when it arrives in the UK. Thank you for the lovely review.


  2. Sounds so beautiful!! Can't wait to get my hands on it…if you want another novel where every word pierces your heart, I'm reading Tell The Wolves I'm Home right now and it's so amazing. Don't want it to EVER end!


  3. I would start with this rather than The Bean Trees or The Poisonwood Bible which friends of mine love. Somehow, they did not appeal to me as this novel did. Does. Will continue to do. Wish I hadn't promised my edition elsewhere or I'd send it over to you. 😦


  4. Thank you, B! I've read The Bean Trees and Animal Dreams and Pigs in Heaven in university days and, while not really impressed (they just came my way and I just happened to have the time, something like that), still continue trying her out, just in case something really clicks, you know. I liked The Poisonwood Bible enough but not especially. The Lacuna is on my TBR, and mostly because of the Kahlo and Rivera connection, though I know their roles there are minuscule. However, you've somehow convinced me that this one might be it. I'll read it someday, thanks to you.


  5. Wow, Bellezza, your post about this book is stunning. And very convincing. I have yet to read a book by Kingsolver (even if The Poisonwood Bible has been on my wishlist for years). Would you recommend starting with the latter or with Flight Behavior?


  6. You're describing exactly how I felt about the Kingsolver books I've read before this one; didn't really get why she was so well loved. Flight Behavior changed my mind, as I hope it does yours when you read it some day.


  7. Oh, I'll take a description of 'stunning' for my post any day! Thanks for the praise, and I would definitely start with Flight Behavior as it's the only one of hers I've loved. So far. 😉


  8. I wasn't sure whether to put this on my list or not as initial reviews didn't grab me and although I haven't read a great deal of Barbara Kingsolver's work, I have preferred her non fiction up to now, but yours has definitely changed that so thank you for an excellent review.
    Do read Tell the Wolves I'm Home – it really is a lovely book and had me laughing and crying in equal measure.


  9. The reviews seem to place a lot of emphasis on global warming, blah blah blah. I'm not as interested in that part of the story as I am in Dellarobia's. Her poverty, her life, had me completely engaged regardless of scientific/biological whatever. Her story was what mattered to me, what I'll take away from the novel as the most meaningful. I hope you find it as interesting, although you say you enjoy nonfiction.

    Now I'll really have to look up Tell The Wolves I'm Home. Two great recommendations in one stream of comments!


  10. I finished (finally!) the book last night. Wow. What a finale. What a story! I wasn't going to read your review until I'd written my own, but I couldn't resist. I had to see what you thought! My goodness, Meredith. This is one of the most touching and exquisite reviews I've ever read! I wish I knew the author so I could send her the link!

    I'm so very far behind with my own reviews, but I think I'll have to sit down this weekend and compose a draft before I start to forget the details.

    Now I'm off to look up Tell the Wolves I'm Home


  11. What a story is right! I loved it until the very bitter end when frankly, I was disappointed over Dellarobia's choice. I know that Kingsolver prepared us for it, and almost made it seem like it was the right thing to do, but my heart breaks for her husband and children. Who seemed innocent bystanders to me, in the maelstrom of Dellarobia's search for meaning. That's just my judgmental, critical self, which I'm sure is not what the general group will feel.

    I know! I have to look up Tell the Wolves I'm Home, too. So much teaching going on around here…


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