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Prodigal Summer: A Novel by Barbara…

Prodigal Summer: A Novel (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Barbara Kingsolver

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Title:Prodigal Summer: A Novel
Authors:Barbara Kingsolver
Info:Harper Perennial (2001), Paperback, 464 pages
Collections:Your library

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Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (2000)

  1. 40
    The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Booksloth, Anonymous user)
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    State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (BillPilgrim)
    BillPilgrim: I heard the comparison/recommendation here: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/07/25/midmorning2/
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    Where the Wild Things Were by William Stolzenburg (Othemts)

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Stories of three different people, all interested in preserving the environment of one valley in the Appalachians. One woman is a Forest Service ranger, another is a young widow left with her husband's farm, and an old man is determined to reinstate chestnut trees to the area. ( )
  phyllis.shepherd | Jan 11, 2015 |
Prodigal Summer is a moving novel that explores the complexities of ecological relationships -- those in the animal/plant world and of human interactions. The story takes place in southern Appalachia told through the loosely-connected lives of three characters. Deanna Wolfe works for the US Forest Service, living in an isolated cabin the the mountains. She is intensly committed to preserving the balance of the ecology of the region, particulary monitoring and protecting the re-entry of coyotes to the area. She encounters Eddie Bondo, a younger man who is a hunter/wanderer in the wild regions of the country. Eddie and Deanna begin a passionate affair, but she is wary of his penchant for hunting predators like coyotes. She attempts to educate Eddie (and us) on the importance of predators to the balance needed in nature.

Lusa Landowski has just moved to the region as a newly-wed from the university in Lexington, a quick and surprise marriage to Cole Widener, the scion of a large but struggling farming family that has lived in the area for many decades. Three of Cole's four sisters are openly hostile to Lusa as she is so different in background from them. Months into her marriage, Lusa experiences a crisis (not revealed here) that will drive her decisions and actions thereafter. Lusa is a university-trained expert on moths and her descriptions of how moths find each other to mate is a powerful thread in Lusa's thinking about her life and to the themes of the novel. Through the tribulations of Jewel, the fourth sister, Lusa reaches out to support her and her children and how she does reveals much about human eco-systems at play.

Garnett Walker is a retired teacher, a curmudgeon in an ongoing feud with his neighbor, Nannie Rawley. Nannie is committed to organic apple growing and her refusal to use chemicals has Garnett convinced she is inviting pests to his property. Garnett is attempting to find a hybrid between American Chestnuts and Chinese Chestnuts that will solve to decades-long scourge of Chestnut blight. Their spatting relationship is comical, but one sees a path for them to overcome their mutual antipathy.

The characters are tangentially connected and the chapters alternate between "Predators" (Deanna), "Moths" (Lusa) and "Chestnuts" (Garnett and Nannie).

Kingsolver is a biologist by education and training and lives in Appalachia. The book reveals her deep knowledge of the region. Her descriptions of the forest environment, the human settlement and the relationship between humans and the environment are convincing and evocative. She tells us much about the delicate and essential balance needed in ecological systems as well as how humans, beyond what they have done to damage the ecology, disrupt their own relationships. The characters find that with care and attention, there are ways to restore themselves to each other.

Kingsolver never fails to satisfy. ( )
  stevesmits | Dec 30, 2014 |
I LOVED this book! I can see how some readers might have been put off by the beginning of the novel, is a little strange with the she-wolf business. But oh! Once the characters and stories develop! I never wanted it to end. Beautifully written, wonderful sense of place, loved how Kingsolver intertwined nature themes into each character's personal story. One of my all time favorites! ( )
  jsalmeron | Dec 8, 2014 |
I previously read, on 1 July 2000, the author's The Bean Trees, and on 21 Jan 2001, her The Poisonwood Bible, both of said books having been read because they appeared on some list of "best books." This book is a 2001 book laid in Appalachia and telling in alternating chapters of Deanna, a "bug scientist" who works as a forest ranger and lives alone ( except when being seduced by a man who hunts coyotes) on a mountain in Appalcachia, Lusa, who married the only boy in a family of six and has the home place of her husband's family, and Garnet, an aging teacher of agriculture. All the stories are told in smoothly written prose (though there are words on how 'hillbillies' talk we are spared an effort to misspell words so as to tell of their way of pronunciation, i.e,, no dialect a la Uncle Remus). Each of the characters are sensitive and opinionated as to ecology and the like. Some of this concentration on bugs and animals and such bored me since such is not a great interest of mine, but the account ends pretty well. So I found the book on balance was better than I sometimes thought as I slogged through it. ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Dec 2, 2014 |
I am very impressed with Barbara Kingsolver’s writing ability. After I had read the first chapter of Prodigal Summer, I said to my wife, “This writer does it all!” By “does it all” I meant depth of characterization, appealing plot development, worthy themes, thoughtful subjective narration, crisp dialogue, appealing sensory imagery, the use of visual detail with dialogue to provide a sense of presence, and a special knowledge of a particular subject.

Characters and Their Conflicts

Divorced from a professor husband, a strong advocate for preserving the balance of nature, a fierce defender of predators (coyotes in particular), Deanna Wolfe is a wildlife biologist working for the forest service on Zebulon Mountain, located between the states of Virginia and Kentucky. Preferring a life of isolation, having lived in a rude cabin for two years, she encounters Eddie Bondo, a 28-year old sheep rancher from Wyoming. She is attracted to him, despite being in her late forties. They initiate a sexual relationship. Her need for intimate contact so long deferred is countered by her concern about their age difference but more importantly by her belief that he has come to the mountain to hunt coyotes, a predator he particularly hates. Deanna is aware that bounty hunts in the Appalachian states are common-place. The local Mountain Empire Bounty Hunt is about to begin. She is torn by her need for him and her compulsion to protect two female coyotes and their young pups, which she has just discovered, their appearance marking the end of a lengthy absence of that species in the area.

Lusa Maluf Landowski is introduced in Chapter Two. Lusa is unhappy with her surroundings and argumentative with her husband, Cole Widener. She had been a postdoctoral assistant at the University of Kentucky specializing in the study of moths. Her father, also connected with the university, had been studying the pheromones of codling moths, “notorious pests of apple trees.” Their research findings were accessible to objective-minded regional farmers. Cole Widener had been sent to the university by Zebulon Valley farmers to attend a workshop on integrated pest management. Lusa had spoken about gelechid moths, “denizens of a grain crop in storage.” Very quickly they had become intimate and he had proposed. Moving onto the Widener family property that Cole had inherited from his father, they had begun an existence that Lusa had found culturally and intellectually stagnant and socially distressing. Foremost of her concerns was that Cole’s five sisters were hostile to her. She was an outsider, “from the other side of the mountains, from Lexington.” They resented her. Cole, the male heir of the family, had inherited most of the 60 acres of Widener farmland. The sisters, and their husbands, lived on one-acre parcels that Cole’s father had willed them. Lusa resented their treatment of her, and she disapproved of the valley residents’ use of pesticides and chemical defoliants and their killing of wild animals. “I’m sorry,” she tells Cole, “my education didn’t prepare me to live here where the two classes of animals are food and target practice.” Very soon, Cole is killed in a traffic accident. His sisters are now resentful that Lusa is the heir of the 60 acres of family property and fearful that she will either sell it to somebody outside the family or marry an outsider and produce children who will become the land’s legal heirs. Lusa’s dilemma is deciding what she wants to do with her life: stay and savor the memories of her husband, whom she loves, and deal with her perceived enemies, or terminate this stage in her life and return to Lexington.

Garrett Walker is an 80-year-old widower, former school teacher, and a crosser and back-crosser of the Chinese chestnut and the nearly extinct American chestnut tree. He is a narrow-minded, insufferably opinionated, lonely old man who has “turned to God for his solace.” His nemesis is his neighbor, Nannie Rawley, an organic apple orchard grower who is close to 70 years of age. According to Garrett, Nannie defies all the rules of decent, socially acceptable, common sense behavior.

“Garrett had overlooked her as a child …; had hardly known her as a young woman since she was away for so many years; and had mainly ignored her as long as his wife was alive. … But now, during these eight years alone, he’d been forced to bear her as a burgeoning plague on his old age. Why? What made Nannie do the things she did, before God and Man and sometimes on Garrett’s property? He suspected a connection between that long-ago birth of a deformed child and her terror of chemicals. The troubles had been evident at birth, the Mongol features and so forth, and Nannie had named it Rachel Carson Rawley, after that lady scientist who cried wolf about DDT. Everything in Nannie’s life since seemed to turn on the birth of that child, now that he looked back. The woman had probably been normal once. That Child had launched her off the deep end.”

We discover later in the book that the illegitimate child’s father had also been Deanna Wolfe’s father. According to Garrett, townspeople had forgiven Nannie. “People thought she was comical and intriguing but for the most part excessively kind.” Truthfully, she could get away with anything. “They didn’t suspect her little figure of harboring the devil … He suspected Nannie Rawley had been put on this earth to try his soul and tempt his faith into doubt.” Much of their friction had to do with his use of chemicals. “Success without chemicals was impossible,” he believed. She complained that his use of them endangered her orchard. “If only his poisons would drift over onto her trees,” he wished. Garrett’s encounters with the very sympathetic Nannie Rawley provide entertaining comic relief.

The dominant theme of the novel revolves around the question: Should Man preserve what scientists perceive to be the balance of nature or should he exploit nature for his selfish purposes? Deanna believes that the extinction of any species affects unnaturally the existence of directly related species. You shoot a coyote pup, she tells Eddie Bondo, and “‘a big chunk of his mother’s whole life chance at replacing herself’” is taken down. “‘And you’ve let loose an extra thousand rodents on the world that he would have eaten.’” Garrett states in a letter to Nannie his belief that “we must view God’s creatures as gifts to his favored children and use them for our own purposes, even if this occasionally causes this one or that one to go extinct after a while.” Nannie answers him. “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 … If God gave Man all the creatures of this earth to use for his own ends, he also counseled that gluttony is a sin … He didn’t tell us to go ahead and murder every beetle or caterpillar that wants to eat what we eat (and, by the way, other insects that pollinate what we eat). He did not mean for us to satisfy our every whim for any food, in every season, by tearing down forest to make way for field, ripping up field to make way for beast, and transporting everything we can think of to places it doesn’t belong.” Kingsolver interjects this dominant theme skillfully throughout the novel.

Crisp Dialogue (between Deanna and Eddie Bondo)

“She forced her next words, knowing that each one had its own cost. ‘You said I could ask you a question, and now I’m asking it.’
‘You know.’
He blinked but didn’t speak. Something in his eyes receded from her.
‘What brought you down here to the mountains?’
He looked away. ‘A Greyhound bus.’
‘I have to know this. Was it the bounty hunt?’
He didn’t answer.
‘Just say no if the answer is no. That’s all I want.’
He still said nothing.
‘God.’ She let out a slow breath. ‘I’m not surprised. I knew that I will never, ever understand who you are.’
‘I never asked you to.’”

Appealing Sensory Imagery

“From inside her dark cocoon Deanna listened to the racket of a man in her cabin: the door flung open, boots stomping twice to shed their mud at the door, then the hollow clatter of kindling dropped on the floor. Next, the creak of the stove’s hinge and the crackling complaints of a fire being kindled and gentled to life Soon it would be warm in here, the chill of this June morning chased outdoors where the sun could address it.”

Visual Detail with Dialogue To Provide a Sense of Presence (Deanna and Bondo’s first meeting)

“Cocky, she thought. Or cocked, rather. Like a rifle, ready to go off. ‘What would I need your name for? You fixing to give me a story I’ll want to tell later.’ …
‘That I can’t say. But I won’t bite.’ He grinned—apologetically, it seemed. He was very much younger than she. His left hand reached up to his shoulder, fingertips just brushing the barrel of the rifle strapped to his shoulder. ‘And I don’t shoot girls.’
‘Well, wonderful news.’

A Special Knowledge of a Particular Subject

“She found a spot where it had circled a chestnut stump, probably for scent marking. She studied the stump, an old giant, raggedly rotting its way backward into the ground since its death by ax or blight. Toadstools dotted the humus at its base, tiny ones, brilliant orange, with delicately ridged caps like open parasols. The downpour would have obliterated such fragile things; these must have popped up in the few hours since the rain stopped—after the animal was here, then. Inspired by its ammonia.”

Prodigal Summer is an outstanding novel. ( )
1 vote HaroldTitus | Nov 23, 2014 |
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Readers hoping for the emotional intensity and wide-angle vision of ''The Poisonwood Bible,'' Kingsolver's magnificent 1998 epic about a self-destructing missionary family in the newly independent Congo, will most likely be disappointed. But the legions of fans primed on earlier books like ''Animal Dreams'' and ''The Bean Trees'' will find themselves back on familiar, well-cleared ground of plucky heroines, liberal politics and vivid descriptions of the natural world.
In an improbably appealing book with the feeling of a nice stay inside a terrarium, Ms. Kingsolver means to illustrate the nature of biological destiny and provide enlightened discourse on various ecological matters.

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Kingsolver, BarbaraNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Come, all you who are not satisfied
as ruler in a lone, wallpapered room
full of mute birds, and flowers that falsely bloom,
and closets choked with dreams that long ago died!
Come, let us sweep the old streets--like a bride:
sweep out dead leaves with a relentless broom;
prepare for Spring, as though he were our greem
for whose light footstep eagerly we bide.
We'll sweep out shadows, where the rats long fed;
sweep out our shame--and in its place we'll make
a bower for love, a splendid marriage-bed
fragrant with flowers aquiver for the Spring.
And when he comes, our murdered dreams shall wake;
and when he comes, all the mute birds shall sing.
--Aaron Kramer
--for Steven, Camille, and Lily, and for wildness, where it lives
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Her body moved with the frankness that comes from solitary habits.
Arguments could fill a marriage like water, running through everything, always, with no taste or color but lots of noise.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060959037, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:53 -0400)

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A hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature, and of nature itself. It weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives amid the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia.

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