“A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture.” At forty-five, I spend much of my time looking at my life so far and wondering if I’ve thrown it away, so I was hooked on Barbara Kingsolver’s most recent book, Flight Behavior, from word one. The story is set in modern day southern Appalachia. The heroine is Dellarobia Turnbow, a chain smoking mother with higher ambition than her orphaned self has a right to possess. Just at the moment she has decided to alter her life forever, she witnesses an incredible sight: the migration of monarch butterflies, which inexplicably choose her mountain to winter over. Kingsolver uses her every power as a word smith to paint that miraculous moment for the reader and the word rapture begins to make sense to me.
Dellarobia is not the usual Kingsolver protagonist. She is flawed and cowardly from years of intellectual starvation. She is one contradiction on top of another: bright and full of potential, yet just a follower of the line of ants in front of her. The metamorphosis she experiences mirrors the stages of life and multi-continent migration of monarchs. As Dellarobia discovers the thrill of learning she has emerges from her own cocoon and begins to seek the nectar of life and bask in the heat of new possibilities. While I cheered her on, I was also simultaneously disappointed in her romantic leanings toward looking for a man to solve her problems. Yet I realize that this is the habit of most women I know, and that Barbara Kingsolver knows the same women that I do.
The supporting characters are no less lovable as their personal insecurities and private lives are slowly revealed, one being Dellarobia’s staid and humble husband, Cub. He is the sort that makes you hope for a lightning strike of aptitude to keep him in the running for Dellarobia’s love. But alas, he is what he is, just like real husbands.
What I enjoy about Kingsolver’s novels is not just a great premise for a story and memorable characters, but the language she chooses to express her desire to preserve the natural. While Flight Behavior is a piece of fiction, it is also a call to action. In the same vein that Animal, Vegetable, Mineral made readers think about the food they eat, Flight Behavior brings a social conscience to what might otherwise have been a romance novel with butterflies in it. Dellarobia and her butterfly-like transformation will remind readers that seeking rapture might just throw all of life away.