Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Reviewed by Lucia.

Published: 2001

It's about: Kingsolver traces the lives of three separate and seemingly unconnected people in a village wedged in the southern part of Appalachia, subtlely weaving their stories through a greater tapestry of lives and the nature surrounding them, describing it as though a character in itself. Secluded wildlife biologist Deanna, lives pointedly isolated from human contact while passionately observing her natural surroundings. Contrastingly, newly widowed Lusa has inherited her husband's family home, to the envy and distaste of his five sisters. Finally, headstrong yet endearing Garnett continues to oppose his neighbor's farming techniques, and throughout the course of the season, each experience the recklessness and spontaneity of nature and human spirit.

I thought: Initially I read this book about three years ago as part of a comparative essay with Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. Prior to this I had never read anything by Kingsolver, but am terribly glad I did as she is now one of my favorite authors and Prodigal Summer, one of my best loved books. What completely captivates me is Kingsolver's impossibly effortless style and richly evocative prose. In her natural descriptions, the author showcases both of these very vividly.
To get it out of the way, I will start with what let me down in this novel. In general, I found the characters to be well developed and their purpose in the story was clear. However, occasionally I just wanted to know a little more about this or an extra detail about that. In particular with Deanna's strand of the story, I wanted Kingsolver to go deeper and share just a wee bit more. On the whole, I wanted complete answers to certain aspects, alternative to trusting either another character's or my own assumptions.

I found the structure of the novel, although simple and direct, to be highly effective. The individual segments are titled separately, and supply metaphorical suggestions at their contents. For example, the first chapter 'Predators,' details Deanna's story, as her calm life of which she is deeply private and protective, is protruded into by a young hunter. Furthermore, while she is a furious defender of coyotes, he is bent on eradicating them. Their attraction is paradoxical and similarly corresponds with the chapter headings.

Lastly, something which I detest is sentimental imagery. Often I sense that some writers believe that in order to utilise this technique creatively, it must possess an element of cheesiness. Not to say that one should not insert sentimentality where it is due, but sometimes it becomes down right irritating. Therefore, I am happy to report that Kingsolver's use of imagery, while frequent, is utterly savory. She evokes detailed portraits of the unique landscape which cradles her narrative, with lively fluidity and wit. Metaphorical language is commonly used to compare aspects of nature with specific plot points or to highlight a particular human characteristic. In this way, the prose both sprouts meaning and the author's purpose as well as blooms with beautiful descriptions.

Verdict: It occupies a firm place on my shelf.

Reading Recommendations: If you don't know the meaning of the word 'prodigal,' (don't be embarrassed, I didn't) look it up in a few different dictionaries as they all seem to give a variation on the meaning. I also highly recommend The Lacuna, again by Kingsolver (read Christina's review here).

Warnings: Sex, nothing too explicit though. Otherwise, none.

Favorite excerpts: Solitude is a human presumption.