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Flight Behavior

December 4, 2012
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Barbara Kingsolver is hands down one of my favorite (if not my favorite!) fiction author.

Curtis was out of town for five days last week.  While it was exhausting to be the one who had to wash the dishes every evening, managing the kids and house wasn’t that much different than usual.  In our life, Curtis leaves for work in morning before the kids go to school, and some mornings, even before the kids are up.  He gets home around 6, so in the average day, he helps out with the kids for about 1 1/2 hours a day.  I appreciate that help greatly, but our routine doesn’t change that much when he’s gone.  The hard part of his absence is the after 8:30 time–once every one asleep, the dishes are done, and the house is somewhat straightened.  I miss him then.  I miss my chance for adult conversation, for hearing about his day, for being able to talk nonstop for about 15 minutes about not much in particular.  I miss watching TV with him and having someone else in bed with me.

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For this longer than normal trip, I had a good companion–Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver’s newest novel.  I devoured it in the void of adult conversation.  I finished the book on Sunday and it has been haunting me ever since.

Without ruining the plot, let me tell you a few of things that have stuck with me.  The underlying theme of the book is global warming–it tells you that in the jacket cover.  Several times throughout the book it talks about Texas burning up.  This one, repeated statement has haunted me.  As I read the book, it was 80 degrees outside in December.  Now you Northerners may read that and think, “How lovely.  What a way to spend December!”   I, on the other hand, worried about the truth in Kingsolver’s fiction.  Our average high for this time of year should be in the mid to upper 60’s, not 81 or 82.  Additionally, we received no rain the entire month of November, which is generally one of our wetter months.  Our average rainfall is significantly higher than the area where I grew up–the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.  We’ve been in a drought for 3 or 4 years now and I feel the lack of rain acutely.  I do worry about Texas burning up, regularly.  So when out preacher on Sunday preached about the warnings of Luke 21—dissipation (I’m not quite sure how to explain that one), drunkeness (obvious), and worrying, I knew she was preaching to me.  Kingsolver’s book has left this optimist with a bucket of worry and dismay.  While walking through Advent, I realized I needed to let this worrying go.

Kingsolver also deals beautifully with the culture of Appalachian towns in contrast to urban, intellectuals.  She manages to expose the flaws and the strengths of both groups.   At one point, an environmentalist who has parked himself on Dellarobia’s mountain, shares with Dellarobia (a rural Appalachian woman) things she can do to help save the earth.  This comes in the last third of the book, after Kingsolver has established how Dellarobia’s family is purely getting by, without luxuries and worries about losing a family farm and farming equipment.  It was almost humorous as he read over his checklist, becoming more and more apologetic as he read.  Dellarobia’s family was already doing most of the things on the list and many of the things he said they should forgo she saw as rare luxuries.  He ended by telling Dellarobia, who had only left the county she lived in once, to fly less.

I have also been pondering my own lifestyle.  Through reading this, I realize how different my lifestyle is from that which I’ve grown–a simple Mennonite lifestyle of having enough, for the most part living very environmentally responsibly.    I’ve thought about my friends who still live in the rural community with a new respect and have seen some of the inconsistencies of my lifestyle.  I’ve thought about how much more challenging it is for me to live environmentally responsibly than many others.  As I sit and think about this as I write, I find my fists becoming clenched again, worrying about what we are leaving our children, worrying about what their lives will be like and how their lives will need to be different than ours in order to sustain the earth.

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This is not a light read.  It is troubling.  It is beautiful.  It is a parable and prophesy all rolled into one.  It is dark and depressing.  I absolutely loved it.

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