The summer is hot and humid, a den of coyotes has moved into southern Appalachia, the moths are dancing their mating dance, and very few of the regions human inhabitants take any notice. Yet we are not as disconnected from the natural world and its cycles as we may think (or wish) that we are. In Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver weaves together three parallel love stories, each triggered or affected by the protagonist’s natural surroundings.
Reclusive biologist Deanna is caught off guard when a young hunter appears at her reclusive mountain outpost, but invites him into her home and her bed despite the fact that he intends to destroy that which fascinates her most. Meanwhile, on a farm not far away, newly widowed entomologist Lusa struggles with her discomfort over inheriting her husband’s family tobacco farm, and to win the respect of her five sisters-in-law. And just a little further down the way, elderly gardener Garnett Walker dreams of reestablishing the near extinct American Chestnut tree, while feuding with his neighbor over her refusal to use pesticides.
Having discussed this book often with family and friends, and suggesting it to my book club a number of years ago, I have discovered that it is a story you will either love or hate. There are very few mediocre reviews. As someone with a background in biology & behavioural ecology, I find it fascinating, even necessary, to compare the mating rituals of animals or insects with those of humans. After all, we are animals too, no? Still, intimate descriptions of animal behavior are not everyone’s “thing” it would seem.
Luckily – this is my blog, and I loved the book. At once a heartwarming love story and an argument for sustainable farming and ecological conservation, Prodigal Summer is easily one of my favourite books of all time – and I do not say that lightly.
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (October 17, 2000)