Monday, June 20, 2005

The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

So I promised that I would talk about things I read, and here is my first post to that end. Please keep in mind that I may very well read things that YOU read like 10 years ago. I'm way behind and in an effort to learn a lot more about fiction, I'm reading "all over the map," so to speak. However, I may later post something you hadn't even heard of. And really, as in most things I do, I'm really doing this for me anyway. :-)

The Prodigal Summer is the book that Kingsolver wrote AFTER her really big (physically AND sales-wise) hit The Poisonwood Bible. Kingsolver has a background in biology and her books are usually ecologically aware. This one is no different.

Set in the Appalachains, we see the world through three different storylines: "Predators," "Moth Love," and "Old Chestnuts," told in alternating chapters. Kingsolver takes us through one summer in the lives of Deanna Wolff and Eddie Bondo (Predators), Lusa, the wife then widow of farmer Cole Widener (Moth Love) and Garnett Walker and his neighbor Nannie (Old Chestnuts)... lives that start out seeming almost completely unrelated, but by the end have been woven together neatly and without any sense of manipulation. (I really hate books that have convenient plots... where far-fetched connections are made, just because they can be.) As we learn about these three casts of characters, we see more and more clearly how man is simply another part of nature.

Anticipating a hippie lecture when I opened the book, I didn't care for it at first. The alternating storylines meant that I needed more time to get to know the characters, and I was growing a bit impatient with it. However, right about page 104, I suddenly found myself liking the book, and by the end, I really loved it. The characters are so real... so human... that I couldn't help but care about them and how they directed their lives... even if their lives are hardly similar to mine. And the passion for the mountains of the Appalachain Chain was contagious.

I read this at the same time that I was listening to Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, so I got two different perspectives on the same landscape. I highly recommend a combination like this. The modern hiker vs. the modern citizen of Appalachia gave me such a sense of the mountains that I was tempted to trade in my flip-flops for hiking boots as I was choosing my outfits each morning.

And by coincidence, it's a great summer read. It's meaty, but not so heavy that you feel all academic all the time. Like Wuthering Heights, perhaps, except the English countryside is replaced with the Appalachain Mountains. And there aren't all those British spellings...

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