Prodigal Summer (2000)

by Barbara Kingsolver

Three storylines, all set in the same part of southern Appalachia, slightly intertwine in Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, a novel infused with the author’s environmentalism.

The first features Deanna, a 47-year-old park ranger on Zebulon Mountain. Deanna lives alone in a cabin on the mountain, preferring the company of wildlife to humans. One day 28-year-old Cole crosses her path. He hails from a Wyoming sheep farm and hates coyotes — while Deanna is trying to protect a den of coyotes that recently migrated into the region. Despite their differences, Deanna and Cole enter into an affair.

In the second storyline Lusa, a highly educated entomologist, marries a tobacco farmer and is soon widowed. Instead of returning to her university position, she decides to stay on the farm despite the resentment of her redneck in-laws. Seeking an alternative to tobacco, Lusa comes up with the idea of raising goats to bring to market for religious holy days.

The widowed Garnett, a crotchety septuagenarian who is attempting to develop a blight-resistant American chestnut tree, is the subject of the third storyline, with his neighbor Nannie a nearly coequal character. Garrett has an angry obsession with Nannie’s refusal to use pesticides in her apple orchard.

The situations give Kingsolver many opportunities to insert ecology lessons into the dialogue. The benefits of organic farming over pesticide use are probably better known than the reasons why wild predators should not be killed. Kingsolver’s tone verges on preachiness but isn’t likely to annoy anyone who agrees with her.

The reason for the title Prodigal Summer, which Kingsolver defines as “the season of extravagant procreation,” will become apparent by the end of the book.


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