There were eleven of us, including two new members, one who said she had been trying to get here for two years!
A little background about Barbara Kingsolver. She was born in 1955 in Annapolis, Maryland. She was raised in eastern Kentucky, where her options were to be a farmer or a farmer's wife. She knew she wanted out! She has a B.A. in biology and graduate degrees in biology and ecology. During her college years she also took writing courses, but she had been making up stories for her family since she was a child. Obviously, this story rings so true, because the themes and events have been an intimate part of her life.
Insomnia led her to write The Bean Trees, her first book. Her style was honed with journalism writing and science writing. She is aware of the need to compel in the reader to turn every page. All of her novels have been very popular and that was validated last night.
We all liked this book! Some loved it. One of our longtime members said she has read every book that Kingsolver has written and has loved each one better than the one before. When asked why, she noted that the writing style is vivid. The story is alive. Our member glowed with enthusiasm :> She said that Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer also deals with ecology. She liked the underlying messages.
We went around our circle and each shared a little. I wondered that there would be enough to say among the 11 of us. Once we read a book that everyone LOVED and found little to say other than it was really, really good :>
That was not the case here, people have much to say and most all of it was different. What follows is sort of the stream of comments in no particular order:
General comments about why we liked this book were:
The rich scientific theories she put in this novel, educating us, almost without us realizing it, i.e. the writing style was filled with beautiful prose. (one member read it twice!) Other comments were that it was hilarious, filled with symbolism, such as the "flight," Delarobia's flight away from her unsatisfying life and the flight of the endangered butterflies! Whether human or creature, the environment didn't fit.
There was suspense. The mother-in-law, Hester, and daughter-in-law, Delarobia, had similar crises at young ages that directed the stunted courses of their lives. The secret of the mother-in-law and her judgment of the daughter-in-law caused the tension and suspense. The secret was that the pastor of their church was actually the child given up for adoption by the mother-in-law at the insistence of her husband. The father of the pastor was not the husband. He is unknown to us.
The parents appeared almost unkind to Delarobia and Cub, but when we finally understood the history of the family secret, the behavior made more sense to us. The mother, Hester, stifled her grief of losing her son and moved on with her life. She was able later to join her given-away-son's church. Her son never knew she was the mother. We thought that most likely the unknown man who loved her before she married, was probably the love of her life. Hester never accepted Delarobia, because she knew that Delarobia was smarter than Cub. Delarobia had married Cub, because she was pregnant. Hester, therefore, figured Delarobia "had one foot out of the door," and would leave them all before long. As it turned out, Hester was correct, later, rather than sooner.
We mentioned the folk story of the butterflies being the souls of children who have died and we found that touching. We liked Delarobia's children, the budding scientist Preston and the free, strong spirit, Cathy. We commented on the killing of the lamb and how Delarobia mastered that skill. Life on a farm puts life and death in perspective.
The prose was beautiful, colorful, but two members had a few minor criticisms. One was that the male characters were not as fully developed as the women in the book. We would have liked to have known more about how they became how they were. In other words the men characters were a little flat. That member liked the comparisons of the haves and have-nots in the book. When people from the outside came to teach our down-to-earth farming people how to conserve resources by traveling less in airplanes, our rural people noted that they never fly and can barely buy gas for their cars or tractors. One set of ladies were knitting and selling sweaters to raise money to save the endangered butterflies and one person in the book thought they were knitting sweaters "for the butterflies."
We liked how the anguish of the mismatched marriage was described. We could feel and understand Delarobia's unease. We discussed why she had not left the marriage before when her baby, who caused her teenage marriage, died. The reason was she had no family and no way to live support herself. It made sense at that time to stay, but she was bored, bored, bored. She focused her angst by obsessing about the visiting scientist Ovid, but, thankfully, did not stray.
We figured that Delarobia had arrested development, getting pregnant as a teenager and going into a busy farmwife marriage with two children coming soon after. She had raging hormones and craved a stimulating man, a true romance. The book starts with her escapade to meet her much younger lover-to-be, with his sexy tool belt, the man who could fulfill her! This man turned out to be the randy, community lothario who was soon romancing humorous Dovey! It was a Good thing that God, Climate Change and Floods in Mexico, sent the butterflies as a miracle to distract Delarobia from her intended sin. She didn't even figure out, at first, that the flaming trees were actually millions of monarch butterflies. She was so vain she left her glasses at home, thinking her face without glasses and her uncomfortable high heeled boots would make her more sexy to her intended lover! Thank you butterflies! We really didn't want her character to "stray."
The TV reporter was manipulative and caused problems in the community. Our scientist, Ovid, finally stated the TRUTH of the situation, but did not want to lose face with other scientists, by stating the truth which is controversial. He was, however, going to get an Award for his work and he comments about it, "Yeah, a purple heart." We could feel his pain and ours as we saw, that although this is partially fiction, it could become real. One member mentioned how the Washington logging has destroyed the Seattle shores.
The consequences of the weather shift is frightening. One member commented that although conservative Christians, as in "don't put science before God," may lean toward the conservative/business oriented stance on ecological issues. Once they see, however, that God's beautiful creatures are disappearing, they may change their views.
We liked that Ovid's happy marriage stifled Delarobia's obsession over him as a possible romantic partner.
We liked the character, Dovey. She was a humorous element that kept the story light, when it was getting heavy.
Some questioned the authenticity of Delarobia's husband, Cub. He was passive and ignorant, but sweet and reliable. Some of us have known people like that and found him very believable. He was "too good" to cheat on Delarobia, even though the town promiscuous lady was circling him, yet was it just that he was too dumb? That's what Delarobia thought. Some of us thought he was a weak man, but an honorable man, serving his wife, his parents and his children.
Money seemed to be a large pressure on this community. The levels of poverty were examined. A few members thought the detailed shopping excursion to the used items store went on too long, but we liked that what came from that was the episode where Preston negotiated a purchase of an entire old encyclopedia set for one dollar!
Some of us noted the pace seemed slow, then all of a sudden there were only a few chapters left and huge amounts of plot to resolve. Some didn't like that some issues were not really resolved. We liked how Delarobia explained the divorce to Preston and that the divorce didn't seem contentious, but why didn't Kingsolver let us see more about the interaction between Cub and Delarobia, when they were figuring out how to end their marriage? In other words the ending seemed a tiny rushed.
We did like that in some ways the ending seemed hopeful, hopeful about the butterflies, hopeful about the new lives for Delarobia and her children and that they would return and bring what they learned back with them to the community that loved them and needed them.
We learned about butterflies and climate change, complicated lives filled with secrets and unbreakable rules being broken over and over. We learned about the TRUTH and the manipulation of it, about gradations of rural poverty and rural wisdom. We liked the people in this book, even if we didn't want to!
Barbara Kingsolver did a GREAT JOB!