Last night my book group met to discuss Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel, Flight Behavior, which I had been dying to read. Unfortunately, we all felt that this book failed to live up to our expectations. That being said, a lesser Kingsolver novel is still better than half of what's out there—her writing is that gorgeous.
The novel is about a family in rural Tennessee, but it's also a novel about global warming. What happens is that swarms and swarms of monarch butterflies suddenly come to roost at this one farm in Appalachia instead of the same spot in Mexico where they've always gone. No one can figure it out—not the university scientists who come to study the phenomenon, and certainly not the bewildered family who lives there. Self-awareness ensues!
The main characters are all fully developed and become just as real as someone you meet in real life—that's part of Kingsolver's genius. The problem is that it was a long book and just not a lot of anything much happened on all those pages. If a ruthless editor could have convinced the author to cut out a bunch of unnecessary sub-plots, scientific descriptions, and scenes that went nowhere (and not even fast), this could have been a nifty story about some very interesting, complex people who are suddenly thrust into uncharted territory, with a lesson on climate change thrown in for good measure.
I can't say that I ever wanted to stop reading this, but I'd also be lying if I told you I couldn't put it down. I could, and did, plenty of times. Let's leave it at this: If you are a fan of Kingsolver's writing, at least that part won't disappoint. (Maybe we could convince her to write a sequel, sans butterflies, just so we get to spend more time with some of the characters?)
I think I forgot to tell you about our meeting before this, where we discussed the utterly forgettable Autobiography of Us by Aria Beth Sloss. Man, this was awful. It was the story of lifelong best friends who I couldn't for the life of me figure out—what made them tick, what made them best friends, what the point of the whole book was. The writing was lazy and the only good thing I can say is that it was short. Do not bother.
Next we are doing Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, which just happened to be at the top of my TBR pile anyhow, when another book group member said she'd just finished it, loved it, and thought it would make for a good discussion. So stay tuned!
Oh, one more. I don't edit fiction, but I do proofread it, and at the end of last year I proofed The Unknowns by Gabriel Roth, which I liked very much (yes, I got paid to read a good novel!); it just came out this month. I was surprised to learn that it was Roth's first novel, because it was really well written, both hilarious and tender. He reminds me of Jonathan Tropper, and that's a good thing.