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Here’s a link to the Poetry Foundation’s biography on Allison Seay. At the bottom there are several recordings of her poems, all of which are included in the poetry collection.

Here is a  longer link to an excerpt from Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

In my last response I tried to explain why I was so frustrated with the characters, but I don’t feel that I got across what I wanted to, partly because I was still figuring it out. For me, this novel did have its good and bad points, I can’t say that I enjoyed the whole novel but I didn’t hate all of it either. There are some beautiful moments, and although in comparison to Edith Pearlman the prose is simple, it does not lack its own beauty. In fact I had marked a passage I liked on almost every page. Most of my problems with this book have less to do with the mechanics of writing and more to do with the conceptual issues the text implied.

One of the major things that frustrated me about this book was that its portrayal of this small town in Appalachia enforces the negative stereotypes that plague the region. Dellarobia is the only person from this town who is made to seem at all involved with this world beyond her own life, and her character is quickly made to be something other. She doesn’t belong to this community, and so is removed from the sphere of its cultural inclusion. The stereotype of lack of education and poverty that surrounds the entirety of the Appalachian region does have some basis, but most of that basis comes from the early 1960’s. The percentage of persons over the age of 25 who have received a Bachelor’s degree or more in Tennessee alone is only slightly lower than the national average. While the poverty rate (of Tennessee) is higher than the national average there is not too much of a difference. Her intended audience is not Appalachia, and in her use of this stereotype she is only continuing the cycle of negative images that haunts that community.

In recognizing that I have been fairly outspoken regarding Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, I did want to take a moment to discuss a scene that I thought was particularly well done and from a literary standpoint, one of the more effective moments in the novel.

This time they both shouted, Cub begging her to stop. But she didn’t, even though this flinging felt murderous to a mother who’d cradled feeble infant necks and sheltered soft fontanelles. Dellarobia felt reckless, turning and turning, swinging that child until she lost her feet again. She lay panting.  Cub looked both outraged and deeply anxious, basically positive that she’d lost her mind.

This moment between Cub and Dellarobia was well written, as it expertly chronicles and mirrors the idea of Dellarobia’s personal growth in relation to the monarchs. In trying to save this lamb, it is symbolic of not only the butterflies she has desperately tried to save and study, but also her relationship with Cub.  Perhaps if Cub had responded differently here, Dellarobia would have considered her marriage worth saving.  Instead, Cub essentially thinks she has gone mad.  The lamb itself is this emblamatic gesture of Delllarobia’s newfound freedom and knowledge.  Cub doesn’t understand the effort put behind trying to save it and foster it against the harsher elements of her community and rural life. In failing to understand and be sympathetic of the need to save the lamb, Cub sort of seals the fate of the marriage.

It’s an excellent moment, as even the reader is capable of seeing this chasm between the two of them, that this marriage is now separated be the expanse of newfound knowledge.  In short, I just thought it was a rather excellent moment, and one of the few scenes where I felt Kingsolver paid close attention to her characters and to the literary function of her text, rather than the environmental.  It would have been nice to have seen more of these moments included within the text, as it would have enhanced the environmental perspective by making it more personal and tangible for the reader.

 

Here are the two pieces I’d like you to read for Thursday’s class: Lee Siegel’s essay “Sweet and Low” in the New Republic and Michelle Dean’s review of Flight Behavior in Slate.

I have mixed feelings about the ending of this book. The first aspect that I noticed is that Kingsolver took her merry time wrapping up the story. I will have to admit that I thought this was kind of a slow read for me. I have read books that I enjoy more for sure, so this was not exactly one of my favorites. I would say, that the most annoying part of this book to me was the environmental warnings that were loudly placed in the plot of the story. To me it was like a fly buzzing around my ear that I could not swat away, distracting me from paying attention to the characters and their stories. I can appreciate that Kingsolver married the plot and the environmental warming into one story, but I felt as though it was included at the expense of some of the characters. I was very disappointed with the exit of Ovid from the story. I felt as though there was no real closure within me when it came to his character. He just up and left after realizing the butterflies had been frozen to death. So that made me feel like he was only there to be a tool for the environmental warning. I wanted to see more within the friendship of Ovid and Dellarobia other than just him helping her get into college.

Another issue I had with the ending was the fact that at first I got the impression that most of the butterflies had died in the snow storm, that they had frozen to death. But in the very last few paragraphs of the book, it was obvious that millions of them had survived, since they were all flying downhill. I felt as though the butterflies surviving was needed as symbolism for the fact that Dellarobia had finally found her peace after leaving Cub and going to college, making something of herself. But at the same time it defeats the environmental warning that was so prominent in the book. So was this really a book about global warming or was it a book about a woman finding her peace within a swarm of displaced butterflies?

Here’s a link review in the Boston Globe of Kingsolver’s book and also a link to an interview with Kingsolver.

 

Although so far I’ve really enjoyed this novel, I also have found that I’ve been reading it like I would something more trivial. Something about the structure makes me read it the same way I would read “chick lit.” I think it has to to with the the way in which Kingsolver writes: everything is straightforward; we are not left with things to figure out as with Pearlman. This format could help her reach the point she’s trying to make, she’s more or less finding a way to explain environmental awareness without sounding like a scientist, in a way taking up the issue that she creates for Dellarobia in the novel. At the same time, I don’t know if her ability to make the issues understandable could help because I feel that she alienates the other types of characters. It seems that Dellarobia is the only one with any sense in her town, something I don’t find believable. Although she does occasionally seem to see some good in the people around her, it’s almost as if she can’t let them be smart for the sake of the book.

There are certain things that I think are really well crafted in this next section of Kingsolver’s book, Flight Behavior.  The introduction of the scientists, specifically Ovid Byron, shows a new dimension to Dellarobia’s character.  The differences and class and upbringing become very prevalent in the story.  Unlike other people in the town, Dellarobia and her son Preston are the only two people that attempt to identify with the scientists, while the rest of the community specifically labels them as outsiders.  Dellarobia seems to be in a constant struggle with her self, since she recognizes that they are not a part of her community, but she is fascinated by their lifestyle.  Her intelligence is also noted in this section, along with her desire to learn.

One thing that I really appreciated about this section was the awareness of the different types of “smart” that one possesses.  Although these students were well educated, they were oblivious to some of the hardships that Dellarobia has to deal with on a daily basis, such as being a parent. They also appreciate her knowledge on sewing, and more broadly speaking, simple lost talents that are not as well appreciated in modern society. This ties into another theme in the book.

As pointed out by their Christmas shopping and her constant frustration over poorly made products, the reader is made aware of the constant changes that modern society is going through.  It’s alarming to Dellarobia, who was raised to be more “street smart.”  The lack of appreciation for sold knowledge over simple tasks and nature in general is something that our society seems to forget in this new technology age, and it is nice to see how that is not only affecting people like myself, who are learning how an education is changing, but also people from a different background.

One stylistic trait that is really present in Kingsolver’s writing is the use of similes’.  Similar to Edith Pearlman, she describes things through unexpected comparisons instead of literal descriptions.  I enjoy this method of writing because it reminds me of poetry.

Another struggle that I see as interesting is the struggle between wanting to be a good mother and wife, and wanting the life that Dellarobia could’ve had.  When she is fighting with Cub in the dollar store, I like that we’re given insight to her internal thought process, both feeling guilty for arguing with Cub since she knows that his heart is in a good place, while still continuing to pick a fight because she is frustrated with her own lifestyle.  This struggle is something that people go through constantly during their life; it’s a struggle of identity.

Flight Behavior

In light of Tuesday’s class discussion, I attempted to be consciously more aware of the manner in which certain characters were type-cast in predetermined cultural roles.  With this in mind, I became interested in Dellarobia and Cub’s relationship, which functions somewhat independently while still adequately reflecting the perception of ignorance in the south.

They had arrived at the gate between pasture and backyard. With effort she avoided looking at the shell-like casing of the trailer hunched between their house and driveway crowded into a corner of the farm that had been carved out of the pasture, back when Bear and Hester built the house.  Like the wedding and the house itself, it was a hurry-up kind of fence.  They’d use metal T-posts and cheap wire that still looked provisional after these many years, like the afterthought it was.

This moment within the novel is particularly important, as it reads as fairly typical. There is a definite stereotype regarding many southern marriages, which involves the notion that they take place when the couple is young and have a child on the way. In the case of Dellarobia and Cub, this is true on all accounts.  It seems disappointing from a structural standpoint, as I have an issue with relating the characters on an emotional level. Instead, as a reader, I become resistant to the couple’s relationship, as I simply consider it to be a contrived caricature of something I have already read.

Yet  prior to the above paragraph (page 263), there is an intimate moment between Cub and Dellarobia that is somewhat sweet and endearing. I think it would have been poignant if Kingsolver had attempted to expand upon what makes their relationship unique and significant, rather than continuing to use them as vessels to relay the ignorance of an entire area. Ignorance isn’t demonstrated through caricatures, it’s demonstrated through the personal and intimate choices of single individuals as a reaction to their society.

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