Too vain to wear her glasses and aching for a cigarette, Dellarobia Turnbow hikes up the steep incline behind her Appalachian home headed to an illicit affair with the current fantasy of her dull trapped life, when she encounters a valley on fire. What looks like flame — an unearthly beauty of light and movement — is really a massive billowing cloud of monarch butterflies. Forced to abandon their traditional winter home in Mexico, the butterflies have sought refuge in a high valley in the southern mountain range.
Dellarobia thinks she’s witnessing a miracle. The notion shocks the young woman into her senses and sends her scurrying back down the mountain to the modest frame house she shares with her simple-minded husband Cub and their two children. She returns but she is not the same woman who left. The butterflies change everything for her and for the town.
Once word of the butterflies gets out, Dellarobia becomes a local media star. As she finds her voice, she begins redefining her wifely role and even stands up to her manipulative, self-righteous mother-in-law. When Ovid Byron, a soft-spoken research scientist, rigs up a lab in her back yard and brings in a team of graduate students to help with his work, Dellarobia is introduced to a way of being she never imagined and finds herself both intrigued and resentful. “These people had everything. Education, good looks, boots whose price tag equaled her husband’s last paycheck. Now the butterflies were theirs too.”
Raised in Appalachia and trained as a biologist, Kingsolver creates a kaleidoscope of contrasting worlds within the framework of one small town and one woman’s struggle to make sense of an event that is both awe-inspiring and alarming. Science clashes with religion, fact with fiction and knowledge with ignorance.
Flight Behavior is a richly layered story of human struggle resplendent with conflicted characters and unexpected events. The novel raises important questions about why we believe as we do and what happens when reality challenges those beliefs.