Prodigal Summer – Book Review

She’d rushed out to the porch in her nightgown and bare feet, the hairbrush mostly an afterthought lying on her lap. She needed to listen to this: prodigal summer, the season of extravagant procreation. It could wear out everything in its path with its passionate excesses, but nothing alive with wings or a heart or a seed curled into itself in the ground could resist welcoming it back when it came. – from Prodigal Summer, page 51 –

Barbara Kingsolver’s lush fifth novel, Prodigal Summer, takes place over one summer in the mountains and farmlands of southern Appalachia. Three very different characters (whose lives are connected by blood, geography and nature) are explored in alternating chapters.

Deanna, a middle-aged park ranger, tracks an elusive coyote family and inadvertently crosses paths with the rugged Eddie Bondo who is many years her junior. When the relationship turns sexual, Deanna’s long nurtured isolation conflicts with her desire to create a meaningful connection with another person.

When these creatures danced above their yard at night, she and her dad called them ballerinas. But this was no ballerina. Its body was a fat, furry cone flattened on one end into a ferocious face like a tiny, angry owl’s. It glared at Deanna, seeming to know too much for an insect and, worse, seeming disdainful. She hadn’t given up her love for luna after that, but she’d never forgotten, either, how a mystery caught in the hand could lose its grace. – from Prodigal Summer, page 66 –

Lusa comes to Appalachia as an outsider married to a man whose family has long farmed the area. Her struggle to find her place in the family and come to terms with grief and loss forces her to adapt her expectations and open her heart.

Survival here would be possible if only she could fill the air with scent and dispatch the stern female ghosts in that kitchen with the sweetness of an unabashed blooming weed. – from Prodigal Summer, page 31 –

Garnett, an elderly and curmudgeonly widow, grinds his teeth in agitation over his seventy-something next door neighbor Nannie who disdains pesticides and wears shorts which indecently expose her legs. Their constant conflicts force Garnett to examine his rigid view of the world, and perhaps make way for a different perception of his feisty neighbor.

A successor to a lost fortune, Garnett had spent his life glancing away from visions of how things might have turned out differently, Nannie Rawley was the exception. How could he not dwell on her presence in his life and seek its meaning? – from Prodigal Summer, page 136 –

Kingsolver adeptly develops her characters, weaving their stories together like a colorful blanket whose beauty lies in the pattern of the whole rather than in any individual thread. The beauty of nature and the threats to its flora and fauna slip in and out of each story. For Deanna, nature has become an escape from the world, one she fiercely protects until Eddie Bondo arrives and blurs the boundaries. Lusa, whose love of moths and bugs sets her apart from her husband’s family, looks to nature as a salve to heal her broken heart. And Garnett, a man who believes in the power of chemicals, yearns to bring back the great American chestnut tree – a desire that is wrapped up in his family’s history. As their stories develop, they begin to merge and connections, sometimes surprising, are revealed.

Barbara Kingsolver is, without a doubt, a gifted writer. In Prodigal Summer she uses all her powers to create a story about love, loss, grief, and the circular nature of life. The novel is fluid and beautifully constructed; the characters deep, conflicted and complex. Despite the serious themes, Kingsolver allows for humor when she throws Nannie and Garnett together – two characters whose polar views of the world cause them to collide again and again.

By now, it is obvious that I loved this book. Kingsolver’s strength as a writer and storyteller are evident on each page. Readers who love character driven novels with beautiful writing will undoubtedly enjoy Prodigal Summer.

Highly recommended.

FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog. This review is part of a book tour through TLC Book Tours.

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    • JoAnn on October 4, 2010 at 05:37

    Your review has me wanting to reread this, Wendy! It’s my favorite Kingsolver novel.

    • Laura on October 4, 2010 at 06:08

    I read this “before blog” and really enjoyed it. Glad you did, too !

    • Lenore on October 4, 2010 at 06:24

    I love this novel so much!

  1. Though I didn’t like The Lacuna very much, I do think I would really like this book, and have a copy on my shelf. I am so glad that you loved it and I will be looking forward to it! Great review!

  2. Wow, I’m struck by the quotations and how lush the language sounds! I have The Poisonwood Bible unread on my nightstand, but this one also sounds too good to pass up. Thanks for the great review 🙂

  3. It’s been years since I read this book, but I loved it too.

    • Jeane on October 4, 2010 at 12:24

    I loved this book. Next to The Poisonwood Bible, it’s my favorite Kingsolver. Such a rich story!

    • Staci on October 4, 2010 at 12:32

    I loved Poisonwood Bible and I’ve been meaning to read this one!! Great review and it has spurred me on to getting a copy!

  4. I love Barbara Kingsolver’s writing as well and this one was one of my favorites. It is such an intricate tale with great characters! I’m glad you like it!

  5. I’ve had this book on my shelf for years b/c I loved The Poisonwood Bible so much. It sounds like I really need to move it up on the TBR list!

    Thanks for being on the tour – you’ve reminded me that I need to read this one very soon.

    • Wendy on October 10, 2010 at 06:09

    Joann: So glad my review made you want to pick up the book again 🙂

    Laura: Of COURSE you loved it LOL! Glad to know we are still enjoying the same books!

    Lenore: Me too 🙂

    Zibilee: I am so nervous to read the Lacuna. So far Kingsolver has been a five star author for me (The Poisonwood Bible and now Prodigal Summer), so I want to love everything she has written. BUT, I keep seeing mixed reviews of The Lacuna 🙁

    Teacher: You’re welcome! The Poisonwood Bible is also WONDERFUL. And yes, Kingsolver has gorgeous writing. Hope you’ll love both books!

    Kathy: Good to know!

    Jeanne: Glad to know you also loved this book – it is really wonderful.

    Staci: I think if you love Poisonwood, you will also love this one. The characters are great.

    Michelle: I agree! The characters in this one were some of my favorites in literature.

    Heather: Oh, don’t wait…read it soon! I think you’ll love it. My pleasure touring this one 🙂

  6. This is actually my least favourite Kingsolver novel — I thought that her agenda was a little too obvious in this one — even though it’s an agenda I’m sympathetic to, it seemed to me that her approach was contrived in parts. However, your review makes me think I should reread this book!

    Have you read The Lacuna yet? I’d say it also suffers from the same problem, but at the same time, it’s an amazing book. I definitely recommend it!

    • Wendy on January 23, 2011 at 20:56

    Avis: Wow – do you think it took me long enough to respond!?!? I am so far behind in comments! Anyway, I wanted to answer your question – No, I have not yet read the Lacuna…although I have the book and want to read it…I hope I love it 🙂

    • Megan on March 18, 2011 at 13:50

    Hello! Loved your review, she’s one of my favorite authors.

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