Flight Behavior

Flight Behavior

3.8 176
by Barbara Kingsolver

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Flight Behavior transfixes from its opening scene, when a young woman's narrow experience of life is thrown wide with the force of a raging fire. In the lyrical language of her native Appalachia, Barbara Kingsolver bares the rich, tarnished humanity of her novel's inhabitants and unearths the modern complexities of rural existence. Characters and reader

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Flight Behavior transfixes from its opening scene, when a young woman's narrow experience of life is thrown wide with the force of a raging fire. In the lyrical language of her native Appalachia, Barbara Kingsolver bares the rich, tarnished humanity of her novel's inhabitants and unearths the modern complexities of rural existence. Characters and reader alike are quickly carried beyond familiar territory here, into the unsettled ground of science, faith, and everyday truces between reason and conviction.

Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.

Flight Behavior takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world.

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Editorial Reviews

The author of The Lacuna and The Poisonwood Diaries returns with a subtle, captivating story about a Tennessee woman whose life was first changed by her pregnancy at seventeen and her marriage to an abusive husband; and then by the discovery of a miraculous lake of fire. Kingsolver at her best.

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Flight Behavior

By Barbara Kingsolver

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2012 Barbara Kingsolver
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-06-212426-5



The Measure of a Man

A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away and it is one part rapture. Or so it seemed for now, to a woman with flame-colored hair who marched uphill to meet her demise. Innocence was no part of this. She knew her own recklessness and marveled, really, at how one hard little flint of thrill could outweigh the pillowy, suffocating aftermath of a long disgrace. The shame and loss would infect her children too, that was the worst of it, in a town where everyone knew them. Even the teenage cashiers at the grocery would take an edge with her after this, clicking painted fingernails on the counter while she wrote her check, eying the oatmeal and frozen peas of an unhinged family and exchanging looks with the bag boy: She's that one. How they admired their own steadfast lives. Right up to the day when hope in all its versions went out of stock, including the crummy discount brands, and the heart had just one instruction left: run. Like a hunted animal, or a racehorse, winning or losing felt exactly alike at this stage, with the same coursing of blood and shortness of breath. She smoked too much, that was another mortification to throw in with the others. But she had cast her lot. Plenty of people took this way out, looking future damage in the eye and naming it something else. Now it was her turn. She could claim the tightness in her chest and call it bliss, rather than the same breathlessness she could be feeling at home right now while toting a heavy laundry basket, behaving like a sensible mother of two.

The children were with her mother-in-law. She'd dropped off those babies this morning on barely sufficient grounds and it might just kill her to dwell on that now. Their little faces turned up to her like the round hearts of two daisies: She loves me, loves me not. All those hopes placed in such a precarious vessel. Realistically, the family could be totaled. That was the word, like a wrecked car wrapped around a telephone pole, no salvageable parts. No husband worth having is going to forgive adultery if it comes to that. And still she felt pulled up this incline by the hand whose touch might bring down all she knew. Maybe she even craved the collapse, with an appetite larger than sense.

At the top of the pasture she leaned against the fence to catch up on oxygen, feeling the slight give of the netted woven wire against her back. No safety net. Unsnapped her purse, counted her cigarettes, discovered she'd have to ration them. This had not been a thinking ahead kind of day. The suede jacket was wrong, too warm, and what if it rained? She frowned at the November sky. It was the same dull, stippled ceiling that had been up there last week, last month, forever. All summer. Whoever was in charge of weather had put a recall on blue and nailed up this mess of dirty white sky like a lousy drywall job. The pasture pond seemed to reflect more light off its surface than the sky itself had to offer. The sheep huddled close around its shine as if they too had given up on the sun and settled for second best. Little puddles winked all the way down Highway 7 toward Feathertown and out the other side of it, toward Cleary, a long trail of potholes glinting with watery light.

The sheep in the field below, the Turnbow family land, the white frame house she had not slept outside for a single night in ten-plus years of marriage: that was pretty much it. The wide screen version of her life since age seventeen. Not including the brief hospital excursions, childbirth related. Apparently, today was the day she walked out of the picture. Distinguishing herself from the luckless sheep that stood down there in the mud surrounded by the deep stiletto holes of their footprints, enduring life's bad deals. They'd worn their heavy wool through the muggy summer and now that winter was almost here, they would be shorn. Life was just one long proposition they never saw coming. Their pasture looked drowned. In the next field over, the orchard painstakingly planted by the neighbors last year was now dying under the rain. From here it all looked fixed and strange, even her house, probably due to the angle. She only looked out those windows, never into them, given the company she kept with people who rolled plastic trucks on the floor. Certainly she never climbed up here to check out the domestic arrangement. The condition of the roof was not encouraging. Her car was parked in the only spot in the county that wouldn't incite gossip, her own driveway. People knew that station wagon and still tended to think of it as belonging to her mother. She'd rescued this one thing from her mother's death, an unreliable set of wheels adequate for short errands with kids in tow. The price of that was a disquieting sense of Mama still coming along for the ride, her tiny frame wedged between the kids' car seats, reaching across them to ash her cigarette out the open window. But no such thoughts today. This morning after leaving the kids at Hester's, she had floored it for the half mile back home, feeling high and wobbly as a kite. Went back into the house only to brush her teeth, shed her glasses and put on eyeliner, no other preparations necessary prior to lighting out her own back door to wreck her reputation. The electric pulse of desire buzzed through her body like an alarm clock gone off in the early light, setting in motion all the things in a day that can't be stopped.

She picked her way now through churned up mud along the fence, lifted the chain fastener on the steel gate and slipped through. Beyond the fence an ordinary wildness of ironweed and briar thickets began. An old road cut through it, long unused, crisscrossed by wild raspberries bending across in tall arcs. In recent times she'd come up here only once, berry picking with her husband Cub and some of his buddies two summers ago, and it definitely wasn't her idea. She'd been barrel round pregnant with Cordelia and thinking she might be called on to deliver the child right there in the brambles, that's how she knew which June that was. So Preston would have been four. She remembered him holding her hand for dear life while Cub's hotdog friends scared them half to death about snakes. These raspberry canes were a weird color for a plant, she noticed now, not that she would know nature if it bit her. But bright pink? The color of a frosted lipstick some thirteen-year old might want to wear. She had probably skipped that phase, heading straight for Immoral Coral and Come-to-Bed Red.

The saplings gave way to a forest. The trees clenched the last of summer's leaves in their fists, and something made her think of Lot's wife in the Bible, who turned back for one last look at home. Poor woman, struck into a pile of salt for such a small disobedience. She did not look back, but headed into the woods on the rutted track her husband's family had always called the High Road. As if, she thought. Taking the High Road to damnation; the irony had failed to cross her mind when she devised this plan. The road up the mountain must have been cut for logging in the old days. The woods had grown back. Cub and his dad drove the all terrain up this way sometimes to get to the little shack on the ridge they used for turkey hunting. Or they used to do that, once upon a time, when the combined weight of the Turnbow men senior and junior was about sixty pounds less than the present day. Back when they used their feet for something other than framing the view of the television set. The road must have been poorly maintained even then. She recalled their taking the chain saw for clearing windfall.

She and Cub used to come up here by themselves in those days, too, for so called picnics. But not once since Cordie and Preston were born. It was crazy to suggest the turkey blind on the family property as a place to hook up. Trysting place, she thought, words from a storybook. And: No sense prettying up dirt, words from a mother-in-law. So where else were they supposed to go? Her own bedroom, strewn with inside out work shirts and a one legged Barbie lying there staring while a person tried to get in the mood? Good night. The Wayside Inn out on the highway was a pitiful place to begin with, before you even started deducting the wages of sin. Mike Bush at the counter would greet her by name: How do, Mrs. Turnbow, now how's them kids? The path became confusing suddenly, blocked with branches. The upper part of a fallen tree lay across it, so immense she had to climb through, stepping between sideways limbs with clammy leaves still attached. Would he find his way through this or would the wall of branches turn him back? Her heart bumped around at the thought of losing this one sweet chance. Once she'd passed through, she considered waiting. But he knew the way. He said he'd hunted from that turkey blind some seasons ago. With his own friends, no one she or Cub knew. Younger, his friends would be.

She smacked her palms together to shuck off the damp grit and viewed the corpse of the fallen monster. The tree was intact, not cut or broken by wind. What a waste. After maybe centuries of survival it had simply let go of the ground, the wide fist of its root mass ripped up and resting naked above a clay gash in the wooded mountainside. Like herself, it just seemed to have come loose from its station in life. After so much rain upon rain this was happening all over the county, she'd seen it in the paper, massive trees keeling over in the night to ravage a family's roof line or flatten the car in the drive. The ground took water until it was nothing but soft sponge and the trees fell out of it. Near Great Lick a whole hillside of mature timber had plummeted together, making a landslide of splintered trunks, rock and rill. People were shocked, even men like her father-in-law who tended to meet any terrible news with "That's nothing," claiming already to have seen everything in creation. But they'd never seen this and had come to confessing it. In such strange times, they may have thought God was taking a hand in things and would thus take note of a lie.

The road turned up steeply toward the ridge and petered out to a single track. A mile yet to go, maybe, she was just guessing. She tried to get a move on, imagining that her long, straight red hair swinging behind her might look athletic, but in truth her feet smarted badly and so did her lungs. New boots. There was one more ruin to add to the pile. The boots were genuine calfskin, dark maroon, hand-tooled uppers and glossy pointed toes, so beautiful she'd nearly cried when she found them at Second Time Around while looking for something decent for Preston to wear to kindergarten. The boots were six dollars, in like new condition, the soles barely scuffed. Someone in the world had such a life, they could take one little walk in expensive new boots and then pitch them out, just because. The boots weren't a perfect fit but they looked good on, so she bought them, her first purchase for herself in over a year, not counting hygiene products. Or cigarettes, which she surely did not count. She'd kept the boots hidden from Cub for no good reason but to keep them precious. Something of her own. In the normal course of family events, every other thing got snatched from her hands: her hairbrush, the TV clicker, the soft middle part of her sandwich, the last Coke she'd waited all afternoon to open. She'd once had a dream of birds pulling the hair from her head in sheaves to make their red nests.

Not that Cub would notice if she wore these boots, and not that she'd had occasion. So why put them on this morning to walk up a muddy hollow in the wettest fall on record? Black leaves clung like dark fish scales to the tooled leather halfway up her calves. This day had played in her head like a movie on round-the-clock reruns, that's why. With an underemployed mind clocking in and out of a scene that smelled of urine and mashed bananas, daydreaming was one thing she had in abundance.

The price was right. She thought about the kissing mostly, when she sat down to manufacture a fantasy in earnest, but other details came along, setting and wardrobe. This might be a difference in how men and women devised their fantasies, she thought. Clothes: present or absent. The calfskin boots were a part of it, as were the suede jacket borrowed from her best friend, Dovey, and the red chenille scarf around her neck, things he would slowly take off of her. She'd pictured it being cold like this, too. Her flyaway thoughts had not blurred out the inconveniences altogether. Her flushed cheeks, his warm hands smoothing the orange hair at her temples, all these were part and parcel. She'd pulled on the boots this morning as if she'd received written instructions.

Excerpted from Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. Copyright © 2012 by Barbara Kingsolver. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Julia Ingalls

“Novelists like Kingsolver have a particular knack for making us empathize with lives that may bear little resemblance to our own…What lifts FLIGHT BEHAVIOR…is not just Kingsolver’s nuanced and funny prose; it’s Dellarobia’s awakening to the possibilities around her.”

Ron Charles

“Kingsolver has written one of the more thoughtful novels about the scientific, financial and psychological intricacies of climate change. And her ability to put these silent, breathtakingly beautiful butterflies at the center of this calamitous and noisy debate is nothing short of brilliant.”

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Flight Behavior 3.8 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 176 reviews.
MatthewK17815 More than 1 year ago
Written with rich, realistic characters and a fascinating premise, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. This is my first book by Ms. Kingsolver but I anticipate many more enjoyable moments spent with her books in the future. Can nature change your life? It certainly seems so for the main character Dellarobia Turnbow, who has almost what could be described as a vision, though it is a real event, on her way to an illicit affair one morning in rural Tennessee. The arrival of monarch butterflies in the woods near her home changes her life and outlooks on almost everything she knows. All the characters are exceptionally written and real; they could be people I know, work with, am friends with. Interlaced with the telling of Dellarobia's domestic life and the changes brought about by this miraculous and at the same time disastrous natural happening are also insightful commentaries via the character of etymologist Ovid Byron about climate change, the nature of science and the media, our places in the natural order, and whether or not we are too late in our efforts to save this planet from the atrocities we have inflicted on it's natural systems and beings. I can not think of a better work of fiction I have read this year and would without reservation recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good novel and especially to those who care for the state our planet is in and want to have a better understanding of what's at stake and how nature can affect every one of us, whether scientist, homemaker, or average Joe. A great read!
TheRelentlessReader More than 1 year ago
Flight Behavior offers a fresh view of climate change and the surrounding issues. It's easy to have grand ideas about how to fix it, but on the ground it's complicated, confusing and sometimes frightening. "I think people are afraid to face up to a bad outcome. That's just human. . . . If fight or flight is the choice, it's way easier to fly." Though science is at the heart of this novel it is written in a lively and accessible way. The best part of this book is the main character Dellarobia. She is doing the best she can with what life has thrown at her. She reminded me of women I know. She reminded me of me. If I were you? I'd put this book on my wish list. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Vintage kingsolver absolutely loved it brought climate change to life with her cast of characters and its affect on them
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not one of her best. While the characters were interesting, you had to wade through pages and pages of dry environmental theory. I got through the book but barely.
Georgene_McDermott More than 1 year ago
This was a very painful read for me, especially the beginning. Character development went on and on and on...I felt i was reading a Dickens novel. After the first hundred pages it got interesting.
GreyhoundMom More than 1 year ago
Kingsolver is a master of wordsmithing and, once again, she does it here. Despite the sometimes heavy handed environmentalism, she paints a portrait of an Appallachian family struggling to survive. Dellarobia, the main character, is stuck in a "shotgun" marriage when an influx of monarch butterflies and the scientists studying them open her eyes to possibilities. The story has characters that you feel you know and a land that comes alive under Kingsolver's pen. Just the description of the snow-covered farm near the story's end is enough to make this book worthwhile. Another wonderful book by a masterful author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am liking the book but must ask why is it that global warming issue is science vs. Christianity? That christians are somehow sticking their heads in the sand? I am christian and I do believe our planet is changing, that we have been given thr huge responsibility of taking care of the earth and we have failed in some ways. I see science as a way of showing God's wonders and a tool to help us do better.Just had to get that niggling voice out of my head!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good, not great. I always enjoy Barbara Kingsolver's books. Her characters are very rich and wonderfully drawn and I always learn something when I read one of her novels, but this book was tough to get through. The story does drag at times and while it is a truly good story I just found myself putting the book down often. Not sure that 400 some odd pages were necessarily to tell this story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not my favorite. Got somewhat bogged down in climate, biology and Appalacia stereotypes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book. I looove Barbara Kingsolver! She is without a doubt one of my favorite authors. I've loved every book I've read by her and Flight Behavior is no exception. I really identified with Dellarobia and her life and problems. I found all of the characters highly relatable and real. I also learned a LOT about climate change through the reading of this book. Love how she always mixes interpersonal relationships and issues with science and nature. Keep up the good work Ms. Kingsolver!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Barbara Kingsolver remains one of my favorite authors. This book is well written, well conceived and beautifully crafted, but it seems very similar to Prodigal Summer. Read it and enjoy it, but if its your first foray into her writing, try another book first.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In my opinion, this novel is up to the caliber of The Poisonwood Bible and Kingsolver's earlier novels. Brilliantly cast in the mountains of Tennessee, Dellarobia is a bright and stifled young wife and mother longing for a life that would stimulate her mind. What she thinks she wants, an extra marital affair, at the beginning of he book seems like child's play compared to the shocking changes that come to her from her experiences in her own back yard. This is an excellent work of fiction and I highly recommend it.
oktruth More than 1 year ago
As I always seem to be, I was totally engrossed with her newest novel. The imagery that Kingsolver creates is breathtaking and heart wrenching at the same time! The characters continue to evolve throughout the story and their development is a joy to witness. I would highly recommend the newest from Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior. Whether it is fiction or non-fiction, I believe she is the most talented writer of our time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Please monitor the juveniles who have been consistently using the customer review blog to write infantile nonsense on the blog. Readers want to get an informative review. I have noticed the same username on other Barnes and Noble book review blogs.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had just finished the very serious "This Changes Everything" by Naomi Klein when I began Kingsolver's "Flight Behavior." Her delicate introduction of a very serious issue mirrors the delicacy of the fate of the Monarch butterflies, her caution echoes the cautionary course a butterfly takes as it crosses paths with us in our gardens. But the undertow to Kingsolver's current is the depressing reality that we are facing real consequences because of the human effect on global climate. And here is where Kingsolver shines, because she makes us look at the human factors like poverty vs conservation, desperation vs opportunity, education vs common sense, that affects everyone's relationship to their environment and ultimately the planet. Thanks Ms. Kingsolver!
tetonpilates More than 1 year ago
I give this book 3 stars because, and only because, parts of the writing are wonderful. It's much too long for the story told, and I get the sense that Kingsolver should have just written a nonfiction account of her love for biology and species diversity...or something. This tale drags in the mud and in the final pages, seems thrown out the window entirely. 
bibliolover More than 1 year ago
Excellent read. Not quite Poisonwood Bible but still very good. Her prose is beautiful. One can see Appalachia, not only in the woods, but in the people.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I always love her books but this one, of a completely plausible yet fictional natural phenomenon, is the best! Do yourself a favor and read it!
Westwood-Reader More than 1 year ago
I listened to Barbara Kingsolver narrate Flight Behavior. She has a very soft voice with not a lot of inflection. The first 2 CD's were pretty ho-hum for me. Then, the book picked up with the arrival of Ovid Byron. Dellarobia, the main character was stuck in a dull marriage with a kind, clod of a man. She yearned for mental stimulation and she got it from Ovid Byron and the scientists who came to her farm to study the rare phenomenon of Monarch Butterfly migration. I enjoyed Dellarobia's personal growth, her insight into the people around her, and especially, her interaction with her mother-in-law, Hester, and her son, Preston. The ending left me wondering - does Dellarobia live?
ironmaiden6 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book but found It to drag in some places. Barbara Kingsolver is an excellent author and I will read anything that she writes. There is always a lesson in life to be learned from her works.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this book.  Such a relevant topic right now as the East Coast is getting pummeled in snow and the West Coast is in it's worst drought ever.  The characters in this book are so realistic and believable.  I felt like I could connect with most of them in one way or another.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone.
AlexandriaNY More than 1 year ago
Come for the story of Dellarobia, a desperate young woman.  Be entranced by Barbara Kingsolver's elegant language and beautiful drawn scenarios.  This seemingly simple book is an important one, possibly the "To Kill a Mockingbird" of its day.  It is not often you find a very readable novel in which the science is accurate, though the premise is pure fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Several years ago (before I'd even heard of Barbara Kingsolver) I casually picked up a copy of "Animal Dreams" and I've been a fan of this author ever since. While I don't consider "Flight Behavior" her very best--it does move rather slowly, especially in the first few chapters--I enjoyed it for the descriptions, the character development, the atmosphere, and the skill with which a complicated subject is made understandable. Not a book to be read in a hurry; my advice is to take it slowly and enjoy the scenery.
kat29 More than 1 year ago
I am not done so cant click on all stars yet. my mom had read her other books such as the bean trees and the one about animals and eating meats.  I never got into those I started this book while on the bike at the gym and I had so so expectations. we are reading on my book club.  I finished the first chapter late at night and wanted to read more but knew I had to go to bed. of the past year I have read a lot of so so boks and only really loved about three or four. this one I will recommend so far. shes an excellent writer and uses a lot of detail and  its enriching the words float of the page. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been reading Kingsolver since the "Bean Trees". She usually has a theme to her books that inform within an engrossing story. PoisonWood Bible, "Lacuna" being two strong ones that come to mind. "Flight Behavior" had some interesting environmental perspectives, but it took a long while to get comfortable with the characters. The ending was rather stark. It would not be on my list of Kingsolver favorites.