There is something special about Barbara Kingsolver’s writing. She is able to create worlds that you can get completely lost in. Minutes and hours ticking by until you realise that the day is gone, or you are forced to return to reality. With Prodigal Summer, I spent a wonderful four days in the Appalachian Mountains. New writers are often advised not to go too crazy with description, and there is a lot of it in this book. But it is never superfluous, Kingsolver gets it spot on.
In this book, we find three stories woven together. Linked by the land itself, as well as he communities that depend upon it. Deanna Wolfe is a forest ranger, tending to the trails of Zebulon Mountain. She has returned to her home county following her divorce, and has spent the last two years in isolation save for the ranger who brings her provisions once a month, and the occasional hunter or hiker. Her life changes the day she meets Eddie Bondo, a hunter who ideals clash with hers, but with whom she has an intense connection.
Down in the town of Egg Fork, Lusa Landowski is struggling to fit in. One year into her marriage to Cole Widener, and she has moved from the big city and her job as an entomologist. Her new in-laws disapprove of her, and she and Cole are arguing over farming methods as well as family relations. When tragedy strikes, Lusa must consider her future and decide whether life in the country is really what she wants, and if so how she will make it work.
Meanwhile Garnett Walker is finding life difficult after the death of his wife Ellen 8 years ago. Estranged from his son and having to deal with Nannie Rawley his infuriating neighbour, he takes comfort in the bible, propagating a new breed of American chestnut trees, and all you can eat Fish dinners at the local diner.
I loved the three main characters, even “sanctimonious old fart” Garnett. They have their flaws, but are more likeable for this. There is visible development for all of them over the course of the book, especially Deanne who seems to change from predator to prey. If I have one complaint, it’s that the conclusion of one of the subplots was a bit obvious, but it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the story.
This is a truly wonderful book which will make you think. Not just about the plight of modern farming communities, but also the role of humans within the ecosystems we are part of. Note to self: leave the spiders alone!