Saturday, March 09, 2013

Prodigal Summer

I really like Barbara Kingsolver's books but somehow never got around to reading Prodigal Summer until this winter.  As usual with Kingsolver's novels, this one blew me away.  I loved the structure (three stories that interweave), the setting (small farming community in Appalachia), and the message (ecosystems are fragile, balance is critical to the health of the organism, and lifeforms will find a way to reproduce).

There is no better way to jump start spring fever than to read Prodigal Summer in the winter.  I absolutely relished reading about life in all its Appalachian abundance while my own garden is frozen and brown.  I felt my own furnace kick in as I read about Lusa canning cherries, harvesting tomatoes, and befriending misunderstood children, Deanna watching over her mountain's coyote family with a mother's anxious heart, and Garnett thawing his own heart so that his mind could be receptive to a different approach to life.  I'm ready to head up to the garden shop and get some starts of lettuce and peas going!

I tend to earmark pages that contain passages or quotes that speak particularly strongly to me while I'm reading a book.  In reviewing this book's earmarked pages after I was done, I noticed that I had a quote from each on the main threads.  Here's what I marked as worth remembering:

"...God's world and the better part of daily life were full of mysteries known only to women." 
This is from the Old Chestnuts thread, about Garnett Walker and his feud with his neighbor, Nannie Rawley.  Garnett is a widower and he and Nannie, both in their late seventies, fight over his use of pesticides and herbicides.  Garnett is a curmudgeon and proud of it, but also lonely and hapless without his wife, adrift in a world he doesn't understand and that has passed him by.

"...the gospel according to Deanna. It's a sin to kill a spider but not a turkey."  

This is from the Predators thread, featuring Deanna Wolfe, a forty-something forest service employee who has been living alone on the mountain above the farming community she grew up in, enjoying her solitude and communing with nature.  And then, Eddie Bondo, a hunky hunter from Wyoming crosses her path and she learns that opposites attract and he learns that killing predators can be catastrophic to an ecosystem.

"I'm married to a piece of land named "Widener." 

This is from my favorite thread, Moth Love, about Lusa, a young woman from Lexington who marries a farmer, Cole Widener, and has to learn how to deal with her new family and cope with the vagaries of marriage that she never anticipated.  Lusa is a biologist and is in love with bugs and sees human interaction through the eyes of an entomologist   I loved reading about her evolution from larvae to butterfly.  

Prodigal Summer is a beautifully crafted novel, peopled with real characters whose stories work together to convey a world view that is both promising and cautionary.  I loved it, and now I'm ready to plant my garden.

Prodigal Summer is the third book I read for the TBR Pile Challenge.  I really love this challenge--I have those books on my shelf because I figured I would like them.  Being disciplined about rewarding myself with good books is such a win-win.


  1. My favorite Kimgsolver novel! Maybe a little "preachy", but I loved it... your post makes me want to reread, then plan my garden too!

  2. Those are some great quotes. I may repeat the spider - turkey one a few times. This sounds well worth reading.

    1. I think you would like it--as JoAnn from Lakeside Musing mentioned, it does get a bit preachy, but then I like the sermon Kingsolver is delivering, so I forgave her for using her novel as a soapbox.

      I've started using the spider/turkey bit myself :)

  3. I haven't read this one yet but, as with all of the Kingsolver I've read, it sounds wonderfully written and strong on message.

  4. I've been wanting to read this one for several years -- maybe 2013:)

  5. I loved this book when I read it a few years ago. It is so well-written, and some parts brought tears to my eyes. She really has a way with characters and nature and making people be a part of the world around them, doesn't she? I'm thrilled you enjoyed it too.

    That's an interesting idea, to read it in winter. I think I read mine in the summer, when it was as green and hot as it is in the book. I could relate then, too! As ever, reading about scientists - especially biology - made me wish I could do the math in science. I really wanted to go into science, once. This book is like a glimpse of that, and I love it even more for that.

    Lovely review, Jane!

  6. I have had this one in my home library for years. I really need to read it. Thanks for the great review!

    Thanks for visiting me yesterday. =O) I hope you enjoy The Remains of the Day as much as I am.