If Barbara Kingsolver does one thing right in Flight Behavior, it’s the thing that matters: her handling of the issue of climate change. Kingsolver opts to depict global warming as a slow simmering disaster instead of going over the top and ending the world like a typical disaster movie. This treatment of such a serious issue grants the novel with a certain level of believability and seriousness that could shake even the most uncertain skeptic. The inevitable demise of monarch butterflies may not sound as scary as a giant flood ravaging the continent’s coast, but Kingsolver manages to bring so much emotion into the story of the butterflies that the urgency is felt in such a startling way.
Additionally, Kingsolver brought the interesting issue of faith vs. climate change to the table. This is an issue to which I have not given much thought prior to reading Flight Behavior; however, since I picked up this novel it has been plaguing my thoughts. Since I must be some sort of masochist when it comes to searching things on the internet pertaining to global issues, I decided to plunge deeper into this connection between Christianity and climate change. The results were terrifying. Theologians and preachers, such as Matthew Hagee, tell their followers not to believe in the “phony” climate change as it is “all a part of God’s plan.” This. Is. Scary. When we encourage idleness and inaction, how can we possibly expect results? Now, this tangent may seem entirely irrelevant to Kingsolver; however, these preachers have given me a great deal more respect for Flight Behavior. When I first read some of the dialogue between Cub and Dellarobia, I found it incredulous to think that one’s religion could restrict them for doing some good for the environment, and Cub’s character just felt really fake to me (I suppose I’m just too optimistic sometimes). While Kingsolver never explicitly takes a stance in terms of her views on faith, I have a good feeling she would be just as sickened by Matthew Hagee’s preaching as I am.
Given everything I’ve said so far, it seems like I should be a big fan of this novel, but that’s not the case. My issue isn’t the same as others complaining about a lack of plot or slow pacing. Actually, I take issue with some things that everyone else seems to enjoy. Particularly, the characters. I’m pretty sure it’s fair to say that Kingsolver intended to make Dellarobia, Ovid Byron, and perhaps even Hester to be likeable characters. However, I could not find a single character in this novel in whom I could believe or sympathize. Take Dellarobia for instance- Kingsolver introduces her as a woman on the edge who is having an affair. This Jimmy guy then pretty much disappears, and Dellarobia moves onto the next piece of eye candy in the form of Ovid Byron (naming characters is also not one of Kingsolver’s strong suits…). So I’m supposed to feel for this character who lies to her husband and barely gives a damn about her children? Then there’s Ovid who is supposed to be some sort of benevolent man, yet every word that came out of his mouth felt really pretentious and arrogant. Yet, no one could be as obnoxious as Dovey. She may go down in history as one of the worst supporting characters I have ever read in literature. All she did was make awfully corny jokes and say “remember when..?” to Dellarobia every other sentence. Ugh. Maybe it’s just me, but this novel reads like a cli-fi soap opera.
I want to like Flight Behavior, I really do. I don’t think any other novel dealing with climate change has reached such a wide audience as this novel. And Kingsolver does a fantastic job of presenting climate change in a believable and terrifying way without being heavy-handed. However, I just don’t think she is an author whose works I would voluntarily read in the near future.