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Prodigal Summer
by Barbara Kingsolver


Hardcover - 464 pages (October 17, 2000)
Harpercollins; ISBN: 0060199652

There is no one in contemporary literature quite like Barbara Kingsolver. Her dialogue sparkles with sassy wit and earthy poetry; her descriptions are rooted in daily life but are also on familiar terms with the eternal. With Prodigal Summer, she returns from the Congo to a "wrinkle on the map that lies between farms and wildness." And there, in an isolated pocket of southern Appalachia, she recounts not one but three intricate stories.

Exuberant, lush, riotous--the summer of the novel is "the season of extravagant procreation" in which bullfrogs carelessly lay their jellied masses of eggs in the grass, "apparently confident that their tadpoles would be able to swim through the lawn like little sperms," and in which a woman may learn to "tell time with her skin." It is also the summer in which a family of coyotes moves into the mountains above Zebulon Valley:

The ghost of a creature long extinct was coming in on silent footprints, returning to the place it had once held in the complex anatomy of this forest like a beating heart returned to its body. This is what she believed she would see, if she watched, at this magical juncture: a restoration.
The "she" is Deanna Wolfe, a wildlife biologist observing the coyotes from her isolated aerie--isolated, that is, until the arrival of a young hunter who makes her even more aware of the truth that humans are only an infinitesimal portion in the ecological balance. This truth forms the axis around which the other two narratives revolve: the story of a city girl, entomologist, and new widow and her efforts to find a place for herself; and the story of Garnett Walker and Nannie Rawley, who seem bent on thrashing out the countless intimate lessons of biology as only an irascible traditional farmer and a devotee of organic agriculture can. As Nannie lectures Garnett, "Everything alive is connected to every other by fine, invisible threads. Things you don't see can help you plenty, and things you try to control will often rear back and bite you, and that's the moral of the story."

Structurally, that gossamer web is the story: images, phrases, and events link the narratives, and these echoes are rarely obvious, always serendipitous. Kingsolver is one of those authors for whom the terrifying elegance of nature is both aesthetic wonder and source of a fierce and abiding moral vision. She may have inherited Thoreau's mantle, but she piles up riches of her own making, blending her extravagant narrative gift with benevolent concise humor. She treads the line between the sentimental and the glorious like nobody else in American literature. --Kelly Flynn

 

articles and reviews
November 5, 2000
Men, Women and Coyotes
Barbara Kingsolver's novel explores a variety of mating rituals.
By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER

Barbara Kingsolver's new novel is all about sex, and she doesn't waste much time on foreplay. As the book opens, Deanna Wolfe, a reclusive wildlife biologist on the far side of 40, is patrolling the woods on Zebulon Mountain, a wild patch of southern Appalachia where she works as a ranger. ''Here and now,'' Kingsolver writes, ''spring heaved in its randy moment. Everywhere you looked, something was fighting for time, for light, the kiss of pollen, a connection of sperm and egg and another chance.'' By Page 3, Deanna has found her own chance -- Eddie Bondo, a 28-year-old Wyoming hunter with a hatred of coyotes that borders on religion and a taste for middle-aged women with long legs and salty tongues. The two eye each other warily and banter about the birds and the bees. ''Every single thing you hear in the woods right now is just nothing but . . . males drumming up business,'' Deanna explains. By chapter's end she and Eddie are drumming up some of their own, falling on each other for a serious Gore-Tex-ripping mingling of gametes -- the ''pursuit of eternity,'' biological style. [read more]

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