Barbara Kingsolver's fifth novel is a hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature, and of nature itself. It weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives amid the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia. Over the course of one humid summer, this novel's intriguing protagonists face disparate predicaments but find connections to one another and to the flora and fauna with which they necessarily share a place.
HA beguiling departure for Kingsolver, who generally tackles social themes with trenchantly serious messages, this sentimental but honest novel exhibits a talent for fiction lighter in mood and tone than The Poisonwood Bible and her previous works. There is also a new emphasis on the natural world, described in sensuous language and precise detail. But Kingsolver continues to take on timely issues, here focusing on the ecological damage caused by herbicides, ethical questions about raising tobacco, and the endangered condition of subsistence farming. A corner of southern Appalachia serves as the setting for the stories of three intertwined lives, and alternating chapters with recurring names signal which of the three protagonists is taking center stage. Each character suffers because his or her way of looking at the world seems incompatible with that of loved ones. In the chapters called "Predator," forest ranger Deanna Wolfe is a 40-plus wildlife biologist and staunch defender of coyotes, which have recently extended their range into Appalachia. Wyoming rancher Eddie Bondo also invades her territory, on a bounty hunt to kill the same nest of coyotes that Deanna is protecting. Their passionate but seemingly ill-fated affair takes place in summertime and mirrors "the eroticism of fecund woods" and "the season of extravagant procreation." Meanwhile, in the chapters called "Moth Love," newly married entomologist Lusa Maluf Landowski is left a widow on her husband's farm with five envious sisters-in-law, crushing debtsDand a desperate and brilliant idea. Crusty old farmer Garnett Walker ("Old Chestnuts") learns to respect his archenemy, who crusades for organic farming and opposes Garnett's use of pesticides. If Kingsolver is sometimes too blatant in creating diametrically opposed characters and paradoxical inconsistencies, readers will be seduced by her effortless prose, her subtle use of Appalachian patois. They'll also respond to the sympathy with which she reflects the difficult lives of people struggling on the hard edge of poverty while tied intimately to the natural world and engaged an elemental search for dignity and human connection. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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1 . Lovely book
Posted October 08, 2010 by Lovely book , Waterloo OntarioThis is one of my favorite Kingsolver books. The characters are deep and richly flavored with some yin-yang opposites. Kingsolver catches the Appalachian flavor and spirit of people beautifully as she intertwines the different lives in this book. An excellent read!
October 31, 2000
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Excerpt from Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
Her body moved with the frankness that comes from solitary habits. But solitude is only a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot; every choice is a world made new for the chosen. All secrets are witnessed.
If someone in this forest had been watching her -- a man with a gun, for instance, hiding inside a copse of leafy beech trees -- he would have noticed how quickly she moved up the path and how direly she scowled at the ground ahead of her feet. He would have judged her an angry woman on the trail of something hateful.
He would have been wrong. She was frustrated, it's true, to be following tracks in the mud she couldn't identify. She was used to being sure. But if she'd troubled to inspect her own mind on this humid, sunlit morning, she would have declared herself happy.
She loved the air after a hard rain, and the way a forest of dripping leaves fills itself with a sibilant percussion that empties your head of words. Her body was free to follow its own rules: a long-legged gait too fast for companionship, unself-conscious squats in the path where she needed to touch broken foliage, a braid of hair nearly as thick as her forearm falling over her shoulder to sweep the ground whenever she bent down. Her limbs rejoiced to be outdoors again, out of her tiny cabin whose log walls had grown furry and overbearing during the long spring rains. The frown was pure concentration, nothing more. Two years alone had given her a blind person's indifference to the look on her own face.
All morning the animal trail had led her uphill, ascending the mountain, skirting a rhododendron slick, and now climbing into an old-growth forest whose steepness had spared it from ever being logged. But even here, where a good oak-hickory canopy sheltered the ridge top, last night's rain had pounded through hard enough to obscure the tracks. She knew the animal's size from the path it had left through the glossy undergrowth of mayapples, and that was enough to speed up her heart. It could be what she'd been looking for these two years and more. This lifetime. But to know for sure she needed details, especially the faint claw mark beyond the toe pad that distinguishes canid from feline. That would be the first thing to vanish in a hard rain, so it wasn't going to appear to her now, however hard she looked. Now it would take more than tracks, and on this sweet, damp morning at the beginning of the world, that was fine with her. She could be a patient tracker. Eventually the animal would give itself away with a mound of scat (which might have dissolved in the rain, too) or something else, some sign particular to its species. A bear will leave claw marks on trees and even bite the bark sometimes, though this was no bear. It was the size of a German shepherd, but no house pet, either. The dog that had laid this trail, if dog it was, would have to be a wild and hungry one to be out in such a rain.
She found a spot where it had circled a chestnut stump, probably for scent marking. She studied the stump: an old giant, raggedly rotting its way backward into the ground since its death by ax or blight. Toadstools dotted the humus at its base, tiny ones, brilliant orange, with delicately ridged caps like open parasols. The downpour would have obliterated such fragile things; these must have popped up in the few hours since the rain stopped -- after the animal was here, then. Inspired by its ammonia. She studied the ground for a long time, unconscious of the elegant length of her nose and chin in profile, unaware of her left hand moving near her face to disperse a cloud of gnats and push stray hair out of her eyes. She squatted, steadied herself by placing her fingertips in the moss at the foot of the stump, and pressed her face to the musky old wood. Inhaled.