Let’s Discuss — Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors. Her writing is earthy, romantic, didactic, sensual and eloquent. More importantly, her writing is familiar and comforting. In other words, she gets me. Growing up along the outskirts of Appalachia, I can relate to the frustration over the damn Kudzu that overtakes native scenery, the annoying stinkbugs that find a way into everything, the irksome pain of cockleburs stuck to your clothing and the awe-inspiring  perfection of apple orchards. I know the country, ‘hillbilly’ accent that is unavoidable if you wander north of Baltimore towards the mountains, or across the Bay to the eastern shore’s blend of marsh and farmland. This book is reminiscent of all of that…she gets me.

‘Why does everything make you so mad?’ she asked finally. ‘I only wish you could see the beauty in it.’

     ‘In what?’ he asked. A cloud passed briefly over the sun, causing everything to shift a little.

‘Everything’. She flung out an arm.’This world! A field of plants and bugs working out a balance in their own way.’

     ‘That’s a happy view of it. They’re killing each other, is what they’re doing.’

‘Yes, sir, eating others and reproducing their own, that’s true. Eating and reproducing, that’s the most of what God’s creation is all about.’

     ‘I’m going to have to take exception to that.’

‘Oh? Are you thinking you got here some way different than the rest of us?’

     ‘No’, he said irritably. ‘I just don’t choose to wallow in it.’

‘It’s not mud, Mr. Walker. It’s glory, to be part of a bigger something. The glory of an evolving world.’ (277)

Not only does Kingsolver give readers beautiful descriptions of nature, she offers them great, authentic characters. The super-long exchange from above is between Nannie Rawley; hardcore anti-pesticide/insecticide activist and organic apple grower, and Garnett Walker; bitter, old man and American Chestnut revivalist. They’re neighbors and they disagree on basically everything. Most of their interactions are philosophical debates, which are quite comical. Garnett Walker’s narrow-mindedness and conservative simplicity is so cute– he’s just old-fashioned, I guess.

The reader will also encounter Deanna Wolfe and Eddie Bondo. She lives on the mountain as a park ranger and he’s sort of a vagabond hunter. He wanders onto her mountain one day, they meet and play house for the summer, until he decides it’s time to find another mountain. They share some intimate moments (nothing over the top) but they also disagree on a singular, pressing issue that neither will budge on. Deanna is one of my favorite characters. I can empathize with her in a way; comfort in solitude and living as a ‘tall’.

Last but not least is Lusa Landowski, and her painful integration into the Widener family. She’s my other favorite–an outsider, an educated, city girl. In my opinion, she faces the most difficult obstacles, but is able to overcome them like a champ. I don’t know if I would have done the same in her situation.

Solitude is a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot, a tug of impalpable thread on the web pulling mate to mate and predator to prey, a beginning or an end. Every choice is a world made new for the chosen. (444)

This is a story about the different kinds of love one can experience and the interconnectedness (I think that’s a word) of everyone and everything.

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