Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior

Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward, she thought, words from the book of Job, made for a world unraveling into fire and flood.          Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior

Flight Behavior book coverBarbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior blindsided me; I didn’t see the end coming, though perhaps I should have. Reading it on the heels of Hurricane Sandy only added to its impact. What incredible timing for this novel to be published just days after a superstorm brought a 13-foot storm surge to New York City.

I once lived in New York, so I found it hard to believe the scenes in the news: water pouring into the 9/11 construction site at the World Trade Center, Bellevue and NYU’s Tisch hospitals in lower Manhattan evacuated, entire neighborhoods destroyed on Staten Island.

Flight Behavior is about climate change and its consequences. If you don’t believe in climate change, you probably won’t like this book. If you do believe in it, you may still find Flight Behavior to be a thinly disguised polemic. I did. Sometimes I had a hard time losing myself in this particular fictional world as I like to do in a good novel.

Nonetheless, I found Flight Behavior to be powerfully and beautifully written. It made me uncomfortable, which is what I think Kingsolver intends for her readers. She loves the earth and respects it as a scientist. (Kingsolver has a degree in biology and worked as a scientist before she began to write fiction.) She wants people to wake up and do something before it is too late.

I couldn’t help thinking of Paul Gilding’s The Great Disruption, one of the most disturbing nonfiction books I’ve ever read on The Great Disruption book coverclimate change. Gilding believes our first priority should be to stop the earth from warming another couple of degrees, and this can be done only with a worldwide, cooperative effort, the likes of which we haven’t seen since World War II. If we don’t do something, Gilding believes disaster will soon be upon us – floods, famines, wars, the end of life as we know it.

He predicts (and hopes) enlightenment will come soon, this decade. People will realize something is wrong, mobilize, and take action.

In Flight Behavior, for a farmer’s wife with two young children, climate change quite suddenly becomes personal. She’s forced to take a stand and brought to a kind of enlightenment. I believe that’s a road we’ll all have to travel.

What do you think about climate change? If you’ve read Flight Behavior or The Great Disruption, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Quote from Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2012.

13 thoughts on “Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior”

  1. I like how you’ve woven your review for these two books together. Both sound good (and important). I absolutely loved Animal Vegetable Miracle. Have you read that one?

  2. I pre-ordered this for my Kindle and it’s setting there waiting for me. I’m so bad about letting books sit–it has to do with the anticipation of reading them. I KNOW they are going to be good so I savor the thought of diving in. The reading inevitably goes too quickly but now I think I’ll dive in today. Love this post and glad I’ve found your blog!

  3. This is an important subject and reminds me of one of my favorite books, “A Friend of the Earth,” by T.C. Boyle. In it, the year is 2025 and the biosphere has collapsed because of global warming. It’s very dark, but pretty funny, too. I have never read anything by Kingsolver, but I look forward to reading this.

    1. Carole, I will have to read Boyle’s book. I just read him for the first time – San Miguel – and was thinking of writing about it on the blog. It was just published, and that book – San Miguel – and Flight Behavior have some similarities.

  4. I believe climate change is real. I can see it in our life time. I hear people say how glad they are that the winters are warmer. I don’t like it. It scares me when i see trees with buds in the middle of winter. It’s not right. There are too many people on the planet and we are doing horrible things. I don’t think everyone will be able to mobilize to do anything positive on a global level. There are too many who think it’s a farce!

  5. I truly believe in climate change caused by man. Yes climate changes over time with no help but mankind has certainly speeded up the process with chemicals and petroleum use. I have not read any books by Barbara Kingsolver but I am familiar with her name because she is always shelved next to one of my favorite authors, Tabitha King!

  6. I believe that climate change is a wake-up call for humanity to finally wrap its mind around the fact that we are all in this together, that our actions and behaviors have consequences, and when we aren’t looking out for each other and the natural world that sustains and nourishes us we are doing great harm to each other the world. Most of us are still asleep, some are waking and sounding the alarm, but our leaders are still groggily groping for easy, short term fixes at best, and at worst still pulling the covers over their heads. I can’t say that I’m any better than the worst of these at doing my part. But I am hopeful that necessity is the mother of invention, and that this wake-up call is a calling, a new way of being and doing in the world that will be answered eventually and meet our most urgent need.

    1. Thanks for expressing this so incredibly well. I was very disappointed there was no dialogue about climate change during the presidential campaign, and I think the fact that we’re not talking about it is a huge problem, and scary. Maybe Sandy and other events will help to change things. And all of us speaking up.

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