The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 5 March 2004

Prodigal Summer

by Barbara Kingsolver

This is a lovely and passionate novel about the great richness of life and its powers of survival. Deanna Wolfe lives alone in a mountain cabin, working for the Forest Service and trying to protect the forest in which she lives. Lusa is a city girl, feeling isolated on her husband's farm and surrounded by hostile in-laws. And Nannie Rawley is an elderly apple farmer with independent ideas driving her old codger of a neighbor around the bend. These three women are the protagonists of three tales that intertwine lives and relationships between people and with the land. Each story takes place within a few miles of the others, upon a mountain and in a valley in Southern Appalachia. Kingsolver writes with a deep passion for the natural world in which her characters live. The book is turgid with a plentiful surge of sexuality and procreation in this humid productive summer. One woman falls in with a wandering young man and feels her animal attraction take over. Another picks up the power of love in the smells upon the air, discovering her connection to a place and family. And another works her land, bringing healthy fruit from her trees as her neighbor discovers a connection with her. Each of these women is tremendously knowing. They each get an opportunity to teach others, usually the male characters, something about connections and responsibilities with the environment. In this, Kingsolver's passion is clear, but the characters begin to sound too much alike and too knowing. The men become blank recipients of a lecture. While the author's point is engaging and important, the writing becomes somewhat weak at these moments. There is too much affection for the women and a slight lack of sympathy for the men and the culture that drew them so far from their connection with the land. Overall, the book is compassionate and energetic, loving and purposeful. Perhaps not Kingsolver's best, but still quite good.

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Also by Kingsolver:

[Other Women Authors]

[Other Books set in the American South]