Prodigal Summer

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Overview

Barbara Kingsolver's fifth novel is a hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature, and of nature itself. It weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives amid the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia. Over the course of one humid summer, this novel's intriguing protagonists face disparate predicaments but find connections to one another and to the flora and fauna with which they necessarily share a place.

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Prodigal Summer

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Overview

Barbara Kingsolver's fifth novel is a hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature, and of nature itself. It weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives amid the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia. Over the course of one humid summer, this novel's intriguing protagonists face disparate predicaments but find connections to one another and to the flora and fauna with which they necessarily share a place.

Prodigal Summer weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives in southern Appalachia. At the heart of these intertwined narratives is a den of coyotes that have recently migrated into the region.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Following the phenomenal achievement of The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver has earned a reputation as a storyteller of deep compassion, wry humor, and moral conviction. Now her fifth novel, Prodigal Summer, reveals her to be in full possession of her gifts as she spins three poignant stories against the hardscrabble landscape of southern Appalachia, where creepers and Japanese beetles have exacted a toll on small farmers. Over the course of a long, hot summer, Kingsolver's big-hearted characters begin to grudgingly reconcile themselves with nature and find they can love one another, too.

At the center of this sprawling tale is a pack of coyotes that has wandered into the territory that park ranger Deanne Wolfe patrols in the aftermath of her divorce. For two years Wolfe has subsisted alone, her solitude proof that she didn't need marriage in the first place. The coyotes are her only companions until Eddie Bondo shows up, with a 30-30 rifle slung over his muscled shoulder, wearing a winning smirk. Within a few hours of meeting they are tearing off each other's clothes as they writhe across the plank floors of Wolfe's log cabin. She eventually discovers that Eddie is more than just a freelance hunter and lothario: He's on a bounty mission to catch and kill her precious coyotes.

Lusa Maluf Landowski faces a more wrenching choice between tending to her land and protecting her heart. A young widow burdened with a heavily mortgaged farm and ornery in-laws, she realizes it might be easier to mend her wounds if she moves on. And staying put would be a huge endeavor: Her barn needs a new roof, her tobacco plants aren't turning a profit, and she desperately craves companionship to fill the lonely hours at home. A few miles down the road, two elderly neighbors, Garnett Walker and Nannie Rawley -- one a devotee of pesticides, the other an organic farmer -- lock horns over whether God intended humankind to meddle with the environment. He rips down her "No Spray Zone" sign, while she accuses him of hubris. Despite their intransigent positions, they feed off each other's ardor and draw inevitably closer together.

Erotic and poetic, Prodigal Summer is Kingsolver's most profoundly philosophical work. With prose that is as supple as a bobcat's tread, she paces deftly between each character's tale, as they search for deeper meaning in the natural world around them. Wolfe knows that by sheltering predators she's removed humankind from nature's equation and attempted to make a false Eden of the woods. Bondo, however, forces her to accept that she needs the companionship of her own species. Lusa and Garnett realize that to live off their land they need to cede it a certain respect. And by so doing, they awaken to a richer connection with the earth and a renewed belief in the essential importance of love.

With a master's assured cadence, Kingsolver winds between these narratives, sprinkling them with telling details about Kentucky's flora and fauna. Moths, goats, and even snapping turtles are captured in their lush splendor. Kingsolver cleverly uses their behavioral patterns as a counterpoint to the petty wrangling of her human characters. Ultimately, though, she affirms that humans are only one link in the chain of life. Prodigal Summer offers a pointedly eloquent argument for the necessity to live within nature's strictures. In this regard, Kingsolver proves an adept moralist, one determined to raise our awareness of the prodigal ways we squander our greatest inheritance: the world in which we live.

--John Freeman

New York Times Book Review
[An] extravagantly gifted narrative voice.
People Magazine
[Kingslover's] sexy, lyrical fifth novel renders our solitary yearnings with a finely trained eye and ear.
US Magazine
Kingsolver deftly addresses the struggle between mankind and nature ... A lush ... novel of love and loss in Appalachia.
New York Times Book Review
[An] extravagantly gifted narrative voice.
Glamour Magazine
Compelling ... Lives that are less simple, and far more passionate, than they appear.
People Magazine
[Kingslover's] sexy, lyrical fifth novel renders our solitary yearnings with a finely trained eye and ear.
Glamour Magazine
Compelling ... Lives that are less simple, and far more passionate, than they appear.
US Magazine
Kingsolver deftly addresses the struggle between mankind and nature ... A lush ... novel of love and loss in Appalachia.
US Magazine
Kingsolver deftly addresses the struggle between mankind and nature ... A lush ... novel of love and loss in Appalachia.
Time
Kingsolver is a gifted magician of words.
Wall Street Journal
Ms. Kingsolver's writing is generously well-grafted; choice moments ... radiate from nearly every page.
Christian Science Monitor
Prodigal Summer is full of ... tenderness, humour and earthy spirituality ... Kingsolver's dialogue is absolutely natural, often funny, and sometimes heartbreaking.
Creative Loafing
... a story of the many ways to define family — human or not ... full of joy, warmth, and sweet surprise.
San Francisco Chronicle
A blend of breathtaking artistry, encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world ... and ardent commitment to the supremacy of nature.
Newsweek
A warm, intricately constructed book shot through with an extraordinary amount of insight and information about the wonders of the invisible world.
Orlando Sentinel
A triumphant return to the southern Appalachians of her own childhood.
Buffalo News
As lush, rich and abundant as nature itself ... Prodigal Summer is quietly breathtaking, and its vista awe-inspiring.
People
[Kingslover's] sexy, lyrical fifth novel renders our solitary yearnings with a finely trained eye and ear.
Glamour
Compelling ... Lives that are less simple, and far more passionate, than they appear.
US
Kingsolver deftly addresses the struggle between mankind and nature ... A lush ... novel of love and loss in Appalachia.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
HA beguiling departure for Kingsolver, who generally tackles social themes with trenchantly serious messages, this sentimental but honest novel exhibits a talent for fiction lighter in mood and tone than The Poisonwood Bible and her previous works. There is also a new emphasis on the natural world, described in sensuous language and precise detail. But Kingsolver continues to take on timely issues, here focusing on the ecological damage caused by herbicides, ethical questions about raising tobacco, and the endangered condition of subsistence farming. A corner of southern Appalachia serves as the setting for the stories of three intertwined lives, and alternating chapters with recurring names signal which of the three protagonists is taking center stage. Each character suffers because his or her way of looking at the world seems incompatible with that of loved ones. In the chapters called "Predator," forest ranger Deanna Wolfe is a 40-plus wildlife biologist and staunch defender of coyotes, which have recently extended their range into Appalachia. Wyoming rancher Eddie Bondo also invades her territory, on a bounty hunt to kill the same nest of coyotes that Deanna is protecting. Their passionate but seemingly ill-fated affair takes place in summertime and mirrors "the eroticism of fecund woods" and "the season of extravagant procreation." Meanwhile, in the chapters called "Moth Love," newly married entomologist Lusa Maluf Landowski is left a widow on her husband's farm with five envious sisters-in-law, crushing debts--and a desperate and brilliant idea. Crusty old farmer Garnett Walker ("Old Chestnuts") learns to respect his archenemy, who crusades for organic farming and opposes Garnett's use of pesticides. If Kingsolver is sometimes too blatant in creating diametrically opposed characters and paradoxical inconsistencies, readers will be seduced by her effortless prose, her subtle use of Appalachian patois. They'll also respond to the sympathy with which she reflects the difficult lives of people struggling on the hard edge of poverty while tied intimately to the natural world and engaged an elemental search for dignity and human connection. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This novel covers the expanse of one summer in the lives of several people in a remote area of southern Appalachia. The central theme tying three separate story lines together is the importance, and fragility, of the biological ecosystems found in the natural world. This precarious balance between humans and everything else--plants, bugs, moths, and mammals--is examined, tested, rejected, and rejoiced in by a collage of characters, who include Deanna Wolfe, the park ranger who tries to protect a pack of coyotes that miraculously appear on Zebulon Mountain; Lusa Landowski, a city girl with a degree in entomology who raises and sells goat kids; and feuding neighbors Garnett Walker and Nannie Rawley. To follow The Poisonwood Bible would be a daunting task for any writer; for Kingsolver, it would seem to be just about spinning another marvelous, magical yarn, only in a different locale and filled with another batch of endearing, honest people. This time her message is about the environment and intelligent women who are more comfortable with a love of nature than love with a man. Kingsolver reads her own words as lyrically as she writes them. Very highly recommended for all public and academic libraries with audio literature collections.--Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll., Kansas City, MO Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Janet Maslin
In an improbably appealing book with the feeling of a nice stay inside a terrarium, Ms. Kingsolver means to illustrate the nature of biological destiny and provide enlightened discourse on various ecological matters.
New York Times
Ron Charles
As usual Kingsolver's dialogue is absolutely natural, often funny, and sometimes hearbreaking...With [her characters] she has created the most refreshing and funny love affair of the year...These three female protagonists struggle against a culture that denigreates them for not being "natural ladies," but in nature, they find far more profound ways to be women.
Christian Science Monitor
Kirkus Reviews
A complex web of human and natural struggle and interdependency is analyzed with an invigorating mixture of intelligence and warmth. In a vividly detailed Appalachian setting, several seemingly incompatible lives come into initially troubling proximity during one event-filled summer. Wildlife biologist Deanna Wolfe has returned to her home territory to work at "trail maintenance" on lushly forested Zebulon Mountain, where a sighting of coyotes (not native to the area) excites her interest in "the return of a significant canid predator and the reordering of species it might bring about." Deanna's stewardship of this wilderness is compromised by her affair with "seasonal migrant" Eddie Bondo, whose pragmatic hunter's code challenges her determination to preserve nature red in tooth and claw. Their relationship, explored in chapters (ironically) entitled "Predators," is juxtaposed with the stories ("Moth Love") of former "bug scientist" and committed environmentalist Lusa Landowski, a widowed farm woman at odds with her late husband's judgmental (tobacco-growing) family, and feuding next-door neighbors Garnett Walker and Nannie Rawley ("Old Chestnuts"), whose contention arises when the herbicides employed to save his chestnut trees endanger her apple orchard. All of the aforementioned are interesting, complicated, ornery creatures themselves, and Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible, 19xx, etc.) has the good sense to present them in extended conversations (and arguments). The dialogue virtually leaps off the page as the various parties learn a great deal about one another—and themselves. The trap this ambitious story has laid for itself—an overabundance of discussion ofecologicalissues—is to a great extent avoided because its people's causes are shown to have developed credibly from their personal histories and present circumstances. Kingsolver doesn't hesitate to lecture us, but her lessons are couched in a context of felt life so thick with recognition and implication that we willingly absorb them. This deservedly popular writer takes risks that most of her contemporaries wouldn't touch with the proverbial ten-foot pole. Prodigal Summer is another triumphant vindication of her very distinctive art.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060959036
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 100,209
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver's work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has earned a devoted readership at home and abroad. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal, our country's highest honor for service through the arts. She received the 2011 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for the body of her work, and in 2010 won Britain's Orange Prize for The Lacuna. Before she made her living as a writer, Kingsolver earned degrees in biology and worked as a scientist. She now lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia.

Biography

According to the biography on her website, Barbara Kingsolver began writing around the age of nine. Her early "oeuvre" included poems, short stories, and essays, including one noteworthy piece on school safety that was published in the local newspaper, helped to pass a local bond issue, and netted the author a $25 savings bond -- "on which she expected to live comfortably into adulthood."

Kingsolver left her native Kentucky to attend DePauw University on a piano scholarship; but intellectual curiosity (the same quality that informs her writing) prompted her to transfer from the music school to the college of liberal arts where she majored in biology. Immediately after college, she traveled in Greece and France and returned to the U.S. to pursue her master's degree in science from the University of Arizona. She worked for a while as a science writer for the university before becoming a freelance journalist. In 1986 she won an Arizona Press Club Award.

Kingsolver's first novel, The Bean Trees, was composed entirely at night during a period of chronic, pregnancy-related insomnia. Published in 1988, this story of a young woman transplanted from Kentucky to Tucson was reviewed enthusiastically by critics. " As clear as air," rhapsodized The New York Times Book Review. "It is the southern novel taken west, its colors as translucent and polished as one of those slices of rose agate from a desert shop." Readers, too, proclaimed the story a delight.

Since then, Kingsolver has produced a string of bestselling novels, including Pigs in Heaven, The Poisonwood Bible (an Oprah's Book club selection), and Prodigal Summer. She has also authored collections of her poems (Another America), short stories (Homeland), and essays (Small Wonders); as well as nonfiction narratives like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Good To Know

In 2008, Kingsolver delivered the commencement address at Duke University, offering graduates advice on "How to be Hopeful."

She is a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock and roll band consisting of published writers, including Amy Tan, Matt Groening, Dave Barry, and Stephen King among others.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      April 8, 1955
    2. Place of Birth:
      Annapolis, Maryland
    1. Education:
      B.A., DePauw University, 1977; M.S., University of Arizona, 1981
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



Predators



Her body moved with the frankness that comes from solitary habits. But solitude is only a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot; every choice is a world made new for the chosen. All secrets are witnessed.

If someone in this forest had been watching her -- a man with a gun, for instance, hiding inside a copse of leafy beech trees -- he would have noticed how quickly she moved up the path and how direly she scowled at the ground ahead of her feet. He would have judged her an angry woman on the trail of something hateful.

He would have been wrong. She was frustrated, it's true, to be following tracks in the mud she couldn't identify. She was used to being sure. But if she'd troubled to inspect her own mind on this humid, sunlit morning, she would have declared herself happy.

She loved the air after a hard rain, and the way a forest of dripping leaves fills itself with a sibilant percussion that empties your head of words. Her body was free to follow its own rules: a long-legged gait too fast for companionship, unself-conscious squats in the path where she needed to touch broken foliage, a braid of hair nearly as thick as her forearm falling over her shoulder to sweep the ground whenever she bent down. Her limbs rejoiced to be outdoors again, out of her tiny cabin whose log walls had grown furry and overbearing during the long spring rains. The frown was pure concentration, nothing more. Two years alone had given her a blind person's indifference to the look on her own face.

All morning the animal trail had led her uphill,ascending the mountain, skirting a rhododendron slick, and now climbing into an old-growth forest whose steepness had spared it from ever being logged. But even here, where a good oak-hickory canopy sheltered the ridge top, last night's rain had pounded through hard enough to obscure the tracks. She knew the animal's size from the path it had left through the glossy undergrowth of mayapples, and that was enough to speed up her heart. It could be what she'd been looking for these two years and more. This lifetime. But to know for sure she needed details, especially the faint claw mark beyond the toe pad that distinguishes canid from feline. That would be the first thing to vanish in a hard rain, so it wasn't going to appear to her now, however hard she looked. Now it would take more than tracks, and on this sweet, damp morning at the beginning of the world, that was fine with her. She could be a patient tracker. Eventually the animal would give itself away with a mound of scat (which might have dissolved in the rain, too) or something else, some sign particular to its species. A bear will leave claw marks on trees and even bite the bark sometimes, though this was no bear. It was the size of a German shepherd, but no house pet, either. The dog that had laid this trail, if dog it was, would have to be a wild and hungry one to be out in such a rain.

She found a spot where it had circled a chestnut stump, probably for scent marking. She studied the stump: an old giant, raggedly rotting its way backward into the ground since its death by ax or blight. Toadstools dotted the humus at its base, tiny ones, brilliant orange, with delicately ridged caps like open parasols. The downpour would have obliterated such fragile things; these must have popped up in the few hours since the rain stopped -- after the animal was here, then. Inspired by its ammonia. She studied the ground for a long time, unconscious of the elegant length of her nose and chin in profile, unaware of her left hand moving near her face to disperse a cloud of gnats and push stray hair out of her eyes. She squatted, steadied herself by placing her fingertips in the moss at the foot of the stump, and pressed her face to the musky old wood. Inhaled.

“Cat,” she said softly, to nobody. Not what she'd hoped for, but a good surprise to find evidence of a territorial bobcat on this ridge. The mix of forests and wetlands in these mountains could be excellent core habitat for cats, but she knew they mostly kept to the limestone river cliffs along the Virginia-Kentucky border. And yet here one was. It explained the cries she'd heard two nights ago, icy shrieks in the rain, like a woman's screaming. She'd been sure it was a bobcat but still lost sleep over it. No human could fail to be moved by such human-sounding anguish. Remembering it now gave her a shiver as she balanced her weight on her toes and pushed herself back upright to her feet.

And there he stood, looking straight at her. He was dressed in boots and camouflage and carried a pack larger than hers. His rifle was no joke -- a thirty-thirty, it looked like. Surprise must have stormed all over her face before she thought to arrange it for human inspection. It happened, that she ran into hunters up here. But she always saw them first. This one had stolen her advantage -- he'd seen inside her.“Eddie Bondo,” is what he'd said, touching his hat brim, though it took her a moment to work this out.

“What?”

“That's my name.”

“Good Lord,” she said, able to breathe out finally. “I didn't ask your name.”

“You needed to know it, though.”

Cocky, she thought. Or cocked, rather. Like a rifle, ready to go off. “What would I need your name for? You fixing to give me a story I'll want to tell later?” she asked quietly. It was a...

Prodigal Summer. Copyright © by Barbara Kingsolver. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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First Chapter

Chapter One

Predators

Her body moved with the frankness that comes from solitary habits. But solitude is only a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot; every choice is a world made new for the chosen. All secrets are witnessed.

If someone in this forest had been watching her'a man with a gun, for instance, hiding inside a copse of leafy beech trees'he would have noticed how quickly she moved up the path and how direly she scowled at the ground ahead of her feet. He would have judged her an angry woman on the trail of something hateful.

He would have been wrong. She was frustrated, it's true, to be following tracks in the mud she couldn't identify. She was used to being sure. But if she'd troubled to inspect her own mind on this humid, sunlit morning, she would have declared herself happy.

She loved the air after a hard rain, and the way a forest of dripping leaves fills itself with a sibilant percussion that empties your head of words. Her body was free to follow its own rules: a long-legged gait too fast for companionship, unself-conscious squats in the path where she needed to touch broken foliage, a braid of hair nearly as thick as her forearm falling over her shoulder to sweep the ground whenever she bent down. Her limbs rejoiced to be outdoors again, out of her tiny cabin whose log walls had grown furry and overbearing during the long spring rains. The frown was pure concentration, nothing more. Two years alone had given her a blind person's indifference to the look on her own face.

All morning the animal trail had led her uphill, ascending the mountain, skirting a rhododendron slick, and now climbing into an old-growth forest whose steepness had spared it from ever being logged. But even here, where a good oak-hickory canopy sheltered the ridge top, last night's rain had pounded through hard enough to obscure the tracks. She knew the animal's size from the path it had left through the glossy undergrowth of mayapples, and that was enough to speed up her heart. It could be what she'd been looking for these two years and more. This lifetime. But to know for sure she needed details, especially the faint claw mark beyond the toe pad that distinguishes canid from feline. That would be the first thing to vanish in a hard rain, so it wasn't going to appear to her now, however hard she looked. Now it would take more than tracks, and on this sweet, damp morning at the beginning of the world, that was fine with her. She could be a patient tracker. Eventually the animal would give itself away with a mound of scat (which might have dissolved in the rain, too) or something else, some sign particular to its species. A bear will leave claw marks on trees and even bite the bark sometimes, though this was no bear. It was the size of a German shepherd, but no house pet, either. The dog that had laid this trail, if dog it was, would have to be a wild and hungry one to be out in such a rain.

She found a spot where it had circled a chestnut stump, probably for scent marking. She studied the stump: an old giant, raggedly rotting its way backward into the ground since its death by ax or blight. Toadstools dotted the humus at its base, tiny ones, brilliant orange, with delicately ridged caps like open parasols. The downpour would have obliterated such fragile things; these must have popped up in the few hours since the rain stopped'after the animal was here, then. Inspired by its ammonia. She studied the ground for a long time, unconscious of the elegant length of her nose and chin in profile, unaware of her left hand moving near her face to disperse a cloud of gnats and push stray hair out of her eyes. She squatted, steadied herself by placing her fingertips in the moss at the foot of the stump, and pressed her face to the musky old wood. Inhaled.

"Cat," she said softly, to nobody. Not what she'd hoped for, but a good surprise to find evidence of a territorial bobcat on this ridge. The mix of forests and wetlands in these mountains could be excellent core habitat for cats, but she knew they mostly kept to the limestone river cliffs along the Virginia-Kentucky border. And yet here one was. It explained the cries she'd heard two nights ago, icy shrieks in the rain, like a woman's screaming. She'd been sure it was a bobcat but still lost sleep over it. No human could fail to be moved by such human-sounding anguish. Remembering it now gave her a shiver as she balanced her weight on her toes and pushed herself back upright to her feet.

And there he stood, looking straight at her. He was dressed in boots and camouflage and carried a pack larger than hers. His rifle was no joke'a thirty-thirty, it looked like. Surprise must have stormed all over her face before she thought to arrange it for human inspection. It happened, that she ran into hunters up here. But she always saw them first. This one had stolen her advantage'he'd seen inside her."Eddie Bondo," is what he'd said, touching his hat brim, though it took her a moment to work this out.

"What?"

"That's my name."

"Good Lord," she said, able to breathe out finally. "I didn't ask your name."

"You needed to know it, though."

Cocky, she thought. Or cocked, rather. Like a rifle, ready to go off. "What would I need your name for? You fixing to give me a story I'll want to tell later?" she asked quietly. It was a tactic learned from her father, and the way of mountain people in general'to be quiet when most agitated.

"That I can't say. But I won't bite." He grinned'apologetically, it seemed. He was very much younger than she. His left hand reached up to his shoulder, fingertips just brushing the barrel of the rifle strapped to his shoulder. "And I don't shoot girls." "Well. Wonderful news."

Bite, he'd said, with the northerner's clipped i. An outsider, intruding on this place like kudzu vines. He was not very tall but deeply muscular in the way that shows up through a man's clothing, in his wrists and neck and posture: a build so accustomed to work that it seems tensed even when at ease. He said, "You sniff stumps, I see."

"I do."

"You got a good reason for that?"

"Yep."

"You going to tell me what it is?"

"Nope."

Another pause. She watched his hands, but what pulled on her was the dark green glint of his eyes. He observed her acutely, seeming to evaluate her hill-inflected vowels for the secrets behind her "yep" and "nope." His grin turned down on the corners instead of up, asking a curved parenthetical question above his right-angled chin. She could not remember a more compelling combination of features on any man she'd ever seen."You're not much of a talker," he said. "Most girls I know, they'll yap half the day about something they haven't done yet and might not get around to."

"Well, then. I'm not most girls you know..."

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Reading Group Guide

IntroductionProdigal Summer weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives inhabiting the forested mountains and struggling small farms of southern Appalachia. From her outpost in an isolated mountain cabin, Deanna Wolfe, a reclusive wildlife biologist, watches a den of coyotes that have recently migrated into the region. She is caught off-guard by a young hunter who invades her most private spaces and confounds her self-assured, solitary life. On a farm several miles down the mountain, Lusa Maluf Landowski, a bookish city girl turned farmer's wife, finds herself unexpectedly marooned in a strange place where she must declare or lose her attachment to the land that has become her own. And a few more miles down the road, a pair of elderly, feuding neighbors tend their respective farms and wrangle about God, pesticides, and the possibilities of a future neither of them expected. Over the course of one humid summer, as the urge to procreate overtakes the countryside, these characters find their connections to one another and to the flora and fauna with whom they share a place. With the complexity that characterizes Barbara Kingsolver's finest work, Prodigal Summer embraces pure thematic originality and demonstrates a balance of narrative, drama, and ideas that render it an inspiring work of fiction. Discussion Questions
  • Why do you think this book is entitled Prodigal Summer? In what ways do all of the characters display "prodigal" characteristics? Who, or what, welcomes them home from their journeys?
  • Deanna is the self-appointed protector of coyotes and all predators. Is she disturbingnature's own ways of dealing with upsets? What about Garnett and his quest for a blight-free chestnut tree -- is this "good" for nature?
  • How does the relationship between Deanna and Eddie Bondo change them both? Should Deanna have told Eddie about the pregnancy? Do you think he already knew and that was one of the reasons he left when he did?
  • When Nannie and Garnett hug, a huge barrier between them drops and they both gain a basic understanding of each other's humanness and vulnerability. Do you think a romantic relationship between them will ensue? How much does Garnett's unrecognized longing for love and human contact account for the shift in his perception of Nannie and the greater world around him? What else influences the shift in Garnett? Does Nannie change as well?
  • The three major story lines are named "Predators," "Moth Love," and "Old Chestnuts." Why, besides acknowledging her respect for coyotes, spiders and other predatory creatures, are Deanna's chapters named "Predators?" Does her love of predators make her the "natural" lover of Eddie Bondo? How does Lusa's life mirror the life cycle of her beloved moths? How does her love of insects lead to her emergence from her cocoon of grief (i.e. her relationship to Crystal)? How do Garnett and Nannie remind you of "old chestnuts?" Are they extinct? Are they the few lone trees left alive after a blight? About the Author: Barbara Kingsolver, born on April 8, 1955, grew up "in the middle of an alfalfa field," in the part of eastern Kentucky that lies between the opulent horse farms and the impoverished coal fields. As a child, she wrote stories and essays and, beginning at the age of eight, kept a journal religiously.
Kingsolver left Kentucky to attend DePauw University in Indiana and, in the early eighties, she pursued graduate studies in biology and ecology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she received a Masters of Science degree. She has supported herself in a variety of jobs: as an archaeologist, copy editor, X-ray technician, housecleaner, biological researcher, and translator of medical documents. A position as a science writer for the University of Arizona soon led her into feature writing for journals and newspapers. Her numerous articles have appeared in a variety of publications, and many of them are included in the collection, High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never. In 1986 she won an Arizona Press Club award for outstanding feature writing, and in 1995 Kingsolver was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from her alma mater, De Pauw University. From 1985 through 1987, Kingsolver was a freelance journalist by day, but she was writing fiction by night. Married to a chemist in 1985, she suffered from insomnia after becoming pregnant the following year. So at night Kingsolver sat in a closet and began to write The Bean Trees -- a novel about a young woman who leaves rural Kentucky and finds herself living in urban Tucson. The Bean Trees was enthusiastically received by critics. But, perhaps more important to Kingsolver, the novel was read with delight and, even, passion by ordinary readers. "A novel can educate to some extent," she told Publishers Weekly. "But first, a novel has to entertain -- that's the contract with the reader: you give me ten hours and I'll give you a reason to turn every page." The Bean Trees was followed by the collection, Homeland and Other Stories (1989), the novels Animal Dreams (1990), and Pigs in Heaven (1993), and the bestselling High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now and Never (1995). Kingsolver has also published a collection of poetry, Another America: Otra America (Seal Press, 1992, 1998), and a nonfiction book, Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 (ILR Press/Cornell University Press, 1989, 1996). Prior to Prodigal Summer, her most recent work is The Poisonwood Bible -- a New York Times bestseller.Barbara Kingsolver presently lives outside of Tucson with her husband and her two daughters, Camille from a previous marriage, and Lily, who was born in 1996. When not writing or spending time with her family, Barbara gardens, cooks, hikes, works as an environmental activist and human-rights advocate, and plays hand drums and keyboards with her husband, guitarist Steven Hopp. Given that Barbara Kingsolver's work covers the psychic and geographical territories that she knows firsthand, readers often assume that her work is autobiographical. "My work is not about me. I don't ever write about real people. That would be stealing, first of all. And second of all, art is supposed to be better than that. If you want a slice of life, look out the window. An artist has to look out that window, isolate one or two suggestive things, and embroider them together with poetry and fabrication, to create a revelation. If we can't, as artists, improve on real life, we should put down our pencils and go bake bread."
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 180 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 180 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 18, 2011

    WASTE of Anybodys time!!!

    I have read several of ms Kingsolver's book. Her best book by far it "The Poisonwood Bible" which I have read several times. But this book is totaly disappointing. She has three female characters who are so much alike that they are practically identical. She gets on her soapbox and lectures and preaches page after page...chapter after chapter..about the evils of nonorganic farming and killing wolves. OK...fine by me. But over 300 pages of that doesn't make a story and never will. Then...when you think the story is FINALLY going somewhere (around page 315 or so) she just stops. Like she ran out of paper! Ridiculous waste of time. Do NOT buy this thing!

    10 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2010

    Really Boring

    I don't understand what all these other reviewers saw that I didn't see, but I thought this book was very boring. Way too many details about everything. I breezed over a lot to try and just get through it because I don't like to give up on a book, but I put this one away unfinished.

    8 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2011

    Hard to get interested in...

    Haven't finished it - cant get interested in it. Nothing to peak or hold my interest.

    6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2013

    Ok

    The book was interesting reading but I felt like I was reading multiple books at the same time and the ending really didn't pull them all together. That said, I enjoyed the characters and learned about nature.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2012

    Too much of a romance movie

    I liked other books by this author, but this is much too harlequin romance style. No good.








    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    One of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors

    This book is very sensual and the descriptions of summer and the way all animals and insects communicate through non-verbal methods is beautiful and memorable. It is beautifully written and a great introduction to this author if you haven't read her before. If you like Barbara Kingsolver you will love this book.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2009

    A terrific book altogether! It made me hungry for a sequel to discover how the many touching characters fared ultimately. The future is hinted at, temptingly. I wanted more.

    All of the characters came alive as I followed their storylines, intersecting then beginning the underpinings of merging into families. The only part where I felt a trifle indoctrinated was with the need to preserve predatory animals. Deanna went on and on, reinforcing a zealous theme. I got it, I got it!
    Each of the characters was totally enticing. Did Luba make a good profit on her lambs? Did Little Ricky get a girlfriend or become a world traveler? How did Crys fare after her mom died? Did Deanna stay with Nanny and raise the baby in town? Did the cayotes live in peace?

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    excellent read

    Prodigal Summer is one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors. It tells the story of three different people over the course of one summer in Appalachia.


    Deanna Wolfe, works for the Forest Service and lives an isolated existence tracking and protecting coyotes. Lusa Landowski is a young entomologist who moved to a small farm to be with her now deceased husband. Garnett Walker is an 80 year old man trying to bring back the chestnut trees to his region and battling with his neighbor Nannie, whose organic farming methods threaten his project.


    Kingsolver deftly weaves these stories together with an appreciation and understanding of humans and their impact on the environment and nature. Kingsolver has a way of drawing you into the story and making you care about her characters.


    I would put Kingsolver in the same class as Alice Hoffman in her ability to tell a story that makes you feel different, feel moved by reading one of her novels. I even got a biology lesson during this read, but I was so enthralled with the story that I didn't even notice I'd learned anything until it was all over :) Kingsolver writes beautiful and poetic prose but always has important themes within. This is a lighter read than The Poisonwood Bible. If you have never read one of her books, this is a good one to start with and I highly recommend it
    http://bookmagic418.blogspot.com/

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2002

    Erotics of Place

    I have a hunger for words, and for nature writing, that only Kingsolver knows how to feed. In non-fiction, that hunger often moves me to pluck an Annie Dillard volume from the shelves¿ in fiction, it frequently moves me to open a novel by Barbara Kingsolver. She always satisfies. With her background as a biologist, Kingsolver always teaches me something I did not know about the natural world around us - and in us. As her characters in 'Prodigal Summer' know so well, we are one with this planet we live on. Abuse it, and we abuse ourselves. Nurture it, and we nurture ourselves. Her message of respect for the intricate and wonderful plan of nature is strong, but not overpowering. It is neither didactic nor preachy. That's important. The kind of rebel spirit required today to resist both physical and spiritual pollution would resist preaching. But her passion for the beauty of earth and her fascination with how involved a chain of life we are woven into blends easily and cleanly with her skill as a fiction writer. We read a good story and we learn a bit about natural biology - and the learning is painless. The knit of the two is tight and effective. As a woman reader, I also commend this woman author's presentation of such strong female characters. Hurrah! These are sensual women, the older ones fully as much as the younger ones, and they buckle to no one. Yet strength does not mean an inability to love. Women have known this¿ well, forever. To allow emotion to blossom with this kind of lushness is something women have always understood as the epitome of strength. These strong women understand sacrifice. They understand, and give in with gusto and abandon to, the most sensual pleasures. This, too, is our biology, and Kingsolver writes these scenes with mastery and appetite. Her women have spunk and fire. They have tenderness in their touch as well as hard muscle. They may not be able to save the earth¿ but they will certainly try.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2013

    Great Book!

    A very good book! It's a must read!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2012

    Loved It

    I love to read this book in summertime. Barbara Kingsolver is a master at combining cultural anthropology with literature.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2012

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2008

    For lovers of nature and lovers of life, young and old

    With this book, Barbara Kingsolver has won the place in my heart as my favorite author. This is a book for lovers of nature and lovers of life, young and old. Beware: It'll make a scientist want to throw off her lab coat and plunge her hands in the soil, it'll make a farmer want to return to the old-fashioned (organic) methods, and it just might make you a better neighbor wherever you live.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2006

    Appalachian Location is Perfection

    Ms. Kingsolver does a wonderful job of creating very real characters in a very real location--the Appalachian Mountains. You get to know a handful of people and the facets of their lives that, eventually, intertwine together via their close proximity, both geographically speaking and also by the ecosystem that connects them all. I found myself making note of the lines that really spoke to me--I couldn't dismiss their profoundness.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2002

    Prodigal Summer

    Recently during one of my occasional evenings at Barnes & Noble searching the shelves for good books and authors to read, I picked up a hardcover of Prodigal Summer. Upon reading the publisher's review, I immediately became interested in the story and its environmental issues because I grew up near the Great Smoky Mountains and now get back there as often as I can to those peaceful and beautiful mountains that I love and am concerned about. Reading Prodigal Summer was like being home and when I finished it in a few short nights, I was sad to leave the mountains and lose dear friends. Kingsolver's style and imagination, her vivid descriptions and knowledge of nature and the outdoors, and her concerns and messages are poetic and unforgetable and I could almost feel the woods and hear the sounds as I read. Prodigal Summer was the first I've read by Kingsolver, but not the last. I'm headed to Barnes & Noble to buy more of what she's written.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2014

    Kingsolver Fan

    I would encourage anyone to listen to the audio book. It is narrated by the author and provides a deeply satisfying presentation of her work.

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  • Posted October 2, 2014

    She writes like a poet and leaves a trail of thought provoking s

    She writes like a poet and leaves a trail of thought provoking substance.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2014

    Cant stop thinking about this book

    Very well done. Great read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2014

    Excellent

    Beautifully written.

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  • Posted August 30, 2013

    Skip

    This is not up to par for this author, too predictable.

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