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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)

America (26) American (56) American fiction (21) American literature (26) Appalachia (204) book club (32) contemporary (26) contemporary fiction (38) coyotes (56) ecology (95) environment (108) family (49) farming (52) fiction (1,046) first edition (21) Kentucky (39) Kingsolver (44) literary fiction (36) literature (43) love (37) nature (174) novel (130) own (53) read (91) relationships (60) romance (30) to-read (76) unread (63) USA (32) women (48)
  1. 40
    The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Booksloth, Anonymous user)
  2. 10
    State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (BillPilgrim)
    BillPilgrim: I heard the comparison/recommendation here: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/07/25/midmorning2/
  3. 00
    Where the Wild Things Were by William Stolzenburg (Othemts)

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Showing 1-5 of 130 (next | show all)
I can hardly find words to describe how delicious Prodigal Summer was. I have loved everything I've read by Barbara Kingsolver, but if I had to pick a favorite by her this would definitely be in the running. The scope of the story-line is small, but the themes are large. It follows three characters in the Southern Appalachians, who are loosely connected, through one summer. Biology and nature play a large role; describing it to my husband I called it an "ode to ecology." But Kingsolver also goes beyond that: while the non-human ecological systems of predator/prey and mating are important to the story in their own right, they are also a reflection of these processes as they occur between the humans in the story. Kingsolver's writing is sumptuous and atmospheric and she makes the weather and the setting feel almost like additional characters in the story. I highly recommend this quiet and beautiful novel! ( )
  sbsolter | Feb 6, 2014 |
Deanna is an ecologist focused on predators, especially coyotes. Two years before, she created a job maintaining trails and chasing away poachers on a mountain overlooking the Appalachian town she grew up in. A coyote pack has appeared on the mountain, welcome because counterintuitively top level predators can improve an ecosystem. She has caught only glimpses. One day in May, as she is following barely visible coyote tracks, she encounters a man who is evasive about why he is there. She suspects he is there because of a bounty on coyotes; he is from a sheep ranch in the west, where coyotes are enemies. She is strongly attracted regardless, and invites him to her cabin, disturbing the equilibrium of isolation.

Lusa is an entomologist who taught a course on natural pest control at the nearby university. The only child of Jewish and Muslim parents whose family farms were taken by force, she has dreamed about farming since childhood. The year before, a farmer from the Appalachian town at the base of the mountain, interested in alternatives to pesticides, enrolled. After a whirlwind courtship, they married and she moved to his farm. One day in May, he takes a side job delivering grain, and is killed when the truck jackknifes. She inherits a struggling farm and a set of sisters-in-law who resent her position, and wonders how to keep the farm viable without tobacco, the only crop that both land and economics will support.

This Appalachian town is tiny; everyone is related to everyone else somehow, but Deana and Lusa are unaware of each other’s existence. The novel alternates between these two women with compatible perspectives and complementary paths. A third strand, initially minor then of increasing importance, has clashing neighbors: an elderly man with traditional views about women and religion and evolution, who is patiently reconstructing an American Chestnut tree resistant to the blight that destroyed the forest of his youth, and an elderly woman with newfangled views inspired by Rachel Carson, who manages a remarkably successful organic orchard.

The counterpoint of traditional views seems an unnecessary setup; I would’ve preferred more nuance. The plot may be a tad heavy on women lecturing men. Still, the eco-lessons are a primary reason to read, and the flaws are redeemed by the descriptions of place, nature and community, and the interior lives of the two main characters.
1 vote qebo | Jan 21, 2014 |
i learned an exorbenant amount about moths... ( )
  Kathy.Newton | Sep 7, 2013 |
"People in Appalachia insisted that the mountains breathed, and it was true: the steep hollow behind the farmhouse took up one long, slow inhalation every morning and let it back down through their open windows and across the fields throughout evening – just one full, deep breath each day." (31)

Prodigal Summer is narrated in three strands, alternately titled “The Predators,” “Moth Love,” and “Old Chestnuts.” Each of the strands has as its central character a strong, environmentally conscious woman. Deanna Wolfe, in her late 40s, is a government-employed forest ranger who has lived solitarily on Zebulon Mountain for several years. A graduate thesis on coyotes to her credit, she is passionate about protecting the predators. When she meets young Eddie Bondo hiking on the mountain, their points of view, as well as the delineation of predator/prey collide. Lusa Landowski, early thirties, is an entomologist from Lexington who left her lab behind to marry Cole Widener and move to his family’s farm in Egg Fork, Zebulon County. An introvert by nature, and an authority on Luna moths, she will find herself a fish out of water as she tries to find her place in a large extended family in a small farming community. Finally, elderly Nannie Rawley, an organic orchardist, conspicuous to say the least amongst her backwoods neighbours, proves herself a savvy businesswoman in finding a lucrative market for her fruit. That said, her continued success will depend on whether she can keep her cantankerous, even more elderly neighbour, Garnett Walker, from destroying her efforts with pesticides.

What I Liked: I’ve come to expect a well-written story featuring an outstanding sense of place in Kingsolver’s works, and she does not disappoint here. The tapestry of mountains and farms in southern Appalachia are beautifully written. My favourite character is Nannie Rawley, old enough to understand that life doesn’t always go one’s way, and that sometimes there is no just answer – and wise enough to know exactly how to keep one Garnett Walker firmly in his place.

What I Didn’t Like: I found that the novel’s environmental message often came across as sanctimony, a shortcoming I personally find very grating – in fact, I lowered the novel’s rating by a half-star on account of it. In the same vein, I occasionally found the two younger female characters, Deanna and Lusa, a little ecologically-fanatic.

Recommended: In general, for fans of well-written fiction set in Appalachia; and for readers interested in human relationships with nature. More particularly, for Kingsolver fans (although it likely won’t read as one of her best) and dedicated environmentalists. ( )
5 vote lit_chick | Jul 21, 2013 |
As expected I really enjoyed. Having just finished"Flight Behaviour" I was drawn to read this book because it also is about people living in the "backwoods" of the Appalachian mountains. And I loved them, in particular the reclusive and self-sufficient Deanna, who finds herself "carried away" by a a young hunter who's views on life are so different from her own. He realises that he cannot change and sadly leaves her, but in a beautiful twist she finds herself pregnant and this will be her hope for the future. I loved the character of the feisty Nannie Rawley, but really I loved all the characters who each added their own little bit to this lovely story.. ( )
  lesleynicol | Jul 4, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 130 (next | show all)
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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Barbara Kingsolverprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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
First words
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)

(see all 9 descriptions)

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.

(summary from another edition)

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