Prodigal Summer

Prodigal Summer

4.2 181
by Barbara Kingsolver

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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

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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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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

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.04(d)
870L (what's this?)
Age Range:
15 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


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.


“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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Meet the Author

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.

Brief Biography

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

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Prodigal Summer 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 181 reviews.
mamieGS More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Haven't finished it - cant get interested in it. Nothing to peak or hold my interest.
caththegreat More than 1 year ago
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?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked other books by this author, but this is much too harlequin romance style. No good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
debbook More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love to read this book in summertime. Barbara Kingsolver is a master at combining cultural anthropology with literature.
jburke More than 1 year ago
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.
Ed-Philosopher More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
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fotolinda More than 1 year ago
She writes like a poet and leaves a trail of thought provoking substance.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well done. Great read.
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Valsvanline More than 1 year ago
This is not up to par for this author, too predictable.
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