Friday, January 1, 2010

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

I thought I might try to be a little more consistent in my layouts when I do reviews (excepting of course when I'm doing mass reviews of awesomeness:) for a little more structure in those posts. To that end, please enjoy this review with the new format.


Title: Prodigal Summer
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Publisher: HarperCollins (2000)


Prodigal Summer is set in Zebulon County in southern Appalachia and tells three stories as they occur over one summer. Each story unfolds as the season progresses, the protagonists connected by the relentless demands of nature and the farming community in which they live.

A bountiful summer serves as the backdrop for the characters lives whose stories are woven seamlessly with a wealth of natural science. The language is rich and evocative. Kingsolver is also able to introduce people in a way that immediately engages one's curiosity. She beautifully parallels the blossoming of the natural world in the slow unfolding of a character's personality and desires.

Getting to know the women in this novel was a treat. That's too tame, actually. Getting to know them was like a fresh, delicious chocolate croissant that flakes perfectly on your tongue and leaves traces of butter to be licked up on your fingers. I especially loved Deanna in contrast with Lusa. Deanna has a pretty good idea of who she is and what she wants but then has an unexpected encounter. Lusa is learning how to reconcile what she thought she wanted, and who she thought the people around her were, with the reality of her new situation. It is fitting to the theme of nature's beauty and bounty that we meet these women with partners and see how their lives are changed because of them.

The perfect descriptor for this novel is sensual. There is such a powerful sense of the raw magnetism of nature, and its relentless drive to reproduce and survive, that the reader is caught up in an almost erotic sensation of relentless tension. But at the same time that the novel elicits a visceral response it is candidly scientific. The beauty of nature's cycles are equal parts worshiped and dissected.

While I definitely give this book a sound recommendation it does have a few flaws that some readers might find more annoying than I did. It only takes a couple chapters to figure out how everything will end. I am not sure if that was deliberate or not but I found the end to be pretty obvious. Of course, it can be a comfort to know exactly where a story is going (and in another parallel to nature, the outcome of any life is pretty obvious). Also, the science works well with the story but there is a preachy sort of tone at times. I think too, depending on one's background, a lot of the science will not be new so the long preachy sections might become tedious.

rating: 4 of 5 stars


Additional comments:
I loved reading the farming arguments between Nannie and Garnet. I particularly liked Nannie's argument that "modern" farming [in this case, natural pest control, fertilization, etc] is really just "original" or "old-fashioned" farming. It's a lovely reminder that new and synthetic are not always superior to simple solutions in concert with nature. Now, I'm no Luddite (obviously:) and am thrilled with technology and innovation but not at the expense of longevity and sustainability. Technology and innovation are useless without vision and careful application.

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