Book #26: The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

prodigal_summerI have to confess something. In celebration of reaching the halfway mark in my 50 books goal, I bought myself a Kindle. I know, I know. Trust me, I KNOW. My mom has a photo of me with my arms crossed, just after I proclaimed that I would absolutely NEVER read a book on a screen of any kind. I officially retract that statement. My head is hung in shame as I admit that I was wrong; I read a book on a screen. It happened. And the worst part? I LOVED IT. 

It’s great because I can take it everywhere. I read on my lunch break. I read when I’m waiting for things. I read all the time. And books like this one that have been out for a long time are super cheap. And you can loan them from the library without worrying about losing them or forgetting to return them and then being blacklisted by the library. (I’m definitely not speaking from personal experience, no way.)

So, this book was my very first Kindle book. I’m on a Barbara Kingsolver kick right now, and loved this one as much as the last. I read several of her novels a long time ago: The Poisonwood Bible, Animal Dreams, The Bean Trees, The Lacuna and Pigs in Heaven. But these last two are different–where both Animal Dreams and Pigs in Heaven are based in the Arizona desert, where Kingsolver lived for much of her adult life, these two novels return to her homeland–the Appalachian mountains. The Prodigal Summer is a novel about that land. It’s about predator and prey, it’s about love and loss and family and an undeniable connection to the land.

The novel follows three storylines, all in Egg Fork, a tiny town in Appalachia. The first is that of Deanna Woolf. Divorced, orphaned (save her father’s longtime girlfriend Nannie Rawley), and alone, Deanna has a job with the forest service where she lives in a totally isolated cabin in the woods, and her only contact with the outside world is the occasional ‘sang hunter to tell off and the man who delivers her food and supplies. She is totally connected to the natural process around her, and is careful to leave every possible aspect of the world around her unharmed whenever possible. She spends her days tracking wildlife, especially the pack of coyotes that has recently taken up residence in her woods. Until she meets Eddie Bondo, a younger man who comes into Deanna’s woods and her life and changes everything.

The second story is that of Garrett Walker, a man obsessed with creating a blight resistant chestnut tree to repopulate the surrounding mountains with the lost tree. He and his neighbor, Nannie Rawley (yes, same one) are constantly battling over the use of their neighboring land–pesticides or no? Clear the fallen tree or let it rot?

The last of the stories, my favorite, is Lusa Landowski, recent widow of Cole Widener. The Widener clan has occupied the same plot of land in Egg Fork for generations, and when Cole is killed in a car accident, Lusa is left living in his childhood home, surrounded by his four sisters who resent her presence on the Widener land. When Lusa decides to stay, and refuses to plant tobacco–the only crop that will turn a profit–they all think she’s more than a little crazy. Slowly, she befriends one of the sisters and hatches a plan to raise goats for slaughter. She finally warms up to the idea of becoming a Widener on the Widener land.

This novel is full of the lush beauty of the mountains. As you read, you can see the small patches of farmland in the valley, surrounded by the smoothed out ridges of the Appalachian mountains. You can feel the connection that these people have to the land that they live on, and you’ll never regret that the story doesn’t move past that one small patch of terrain. It holds enough, between the moths, chestnut trees, and coyotes, to keep anyone for life.

The list so far:

18. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz

19. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

20. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

21. Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky

22. The Commitment by Dan Savage

23. Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

24. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

25. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver



One thought on “Book #26: The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

  1. I’m reading this book right now! And loving it. In looking at what you’ve read, I don’t see any Jeannette Walls. Check her out, if you haven’t already 🙂 Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses are both enjoyable and well written. Very distinct voice.

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