It often seems that an MFA in creative writing is a prerequisite for published authors today. However, Barbara Kingsolver has a different educational background fueling her works: Prior to trying her hand at fiction, she majored in biology and then completed a master’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. Kingsolver’s concern for the earth has never been so palpable—or so passionate—as in her latest novel, Flight Behavior, where global warming causes things to heat up in small-town Tennessee.
Flight Behavior begins with a breathtaking image: On the way to throw her good life away, Dellarobia Turnbow is stopped dead in her tracks when she glimpses a lake of fire up in her family’s hills. Dellarobia believes her vision is a warning from above that she must mend her traitorous heart and put an end to her sinful ways. When the reality of what she has witnessed is revealed, the church announces that they are experiencing a modern-day miracle; but before long, scientists are swooping in to offer a darker, more sinister explanation for what is happening up on the mountain. Dellarobia soon finds herself embroiled in a battle between fact and faith—and her marriage, her family, her standing in the community, as well as her very conception of the world, hang in the balance.
Inspired by actual environmental events in Mexico, Kingsolver uses Flight Behavior as a platform to deftly enrobe the mounting evidence for climate change and its devastating effects in a satisfying narrative cocoon, an example of literary activism at its finest. Though Kingsolver’s agenda is far from subtle, it is a testament to her skill that the story never loses its way or its heart, and never seems pedantic. Melding the religious aspects of her breakaway hit, The Poisonwood Bible, with the ecological concerns documented in Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, this feels like the book that all of Kingsolver’s previous novels have been leading up to. The end result is a delicate symbiosis between the sacred and the scientific in this richly rewarding novel that will both entertain and incite its readers.