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.
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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