The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

A few years ago while I was living in Anchorage, AK, a good friend of mine found out that her favorite author would be speaking at the University of Alaska and she asked me to go with her. This author was Barbara Kingsolver. I had seen her name around the bookstore, but had never read any of her books. At the lecture, Kingsolver spoke a lot about environmentalism–buy locally grown food, stick with organic, pesticides are bad. This lecture can be heard throughout the entirety of The Prodigal Summer.

This novel takes place in Zebulon Valley, a valley in rural southern Appalachia. There are three separate stories centering around three separate people. The first character is Lusa. Lusa is an entomologist from Lexington, KY who after marrying a farmer moves to his farm in Zebulon Valley. Her husband unexpectedly dies one day, leaving her with the farm. While grieving her husband, Lusa has to get along in a community that she doesn’t quite fit into and figure out how to make a life on a farm.

The next character is Deanna Wolfe. Deanna is a forty-something woman who has basically exiled herself from the world of humans for the past two years. She lives and works in the national forest just outside of the valley. It’s here that she meets Eddie Bondo, a sheep herder from Wyoming who is traveling the country while hunting coyotes. Deanna just happened to write her Master’s thesis on why coyotes are the most awesomest animal ever and makes it her goal to get Eddie to agree. If Eddie has a reason behind his coyote-hate besides the fact that they eat sheep, we never hear it. This is a common theme with most of the side characters.

The third story is centered around Garnett Walker. Garnett is a cantankerous septuagenarian who believes the world ought to be a certain way. He also believes rock and roll is a fad that will die soon. He and his neighbor, an elderly woman named Nannie, butt heads constantly, but are probably each others’ best friend.

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about The Prodigal Summer. Kingsolver is obviously a great writer. She presented a clear and precise picture of small town Appalachia. Her descriptions of the smells, sounds, and sights of Zebulon county were absolutely beautiful. There were times while reading the book that I felt like I was going on vacation there. The main characters were developed and interesting people. The stories, on the other hand, were not very interesting to me personally. Every story involves learning and teaching others about being better environmentalists. Don’t get me wrong, I think environmentalism is great, but sometimes I wanted to tell the characters, “Hey, you guys are great, really, but could you stop lecturing me and do something?”

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1 Comment

  1. yeratomato said,

    December 2, 2009 at 6:34 am

    That sounds mighty boring. I’m sure it’s great for some people, like smelly hippies, but reading about it seems like snooze time.

    I think Garnett was right though, rock and roll was a fad and I’m pretty sure it’s dead now.


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