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 of ecological issues—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.