Tom's Reviews > Prodigal Summer

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
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Aug 26, 08

Read in August, 2008

Prodigal Summer tells the stories of several different people clustered around a deep valley in Southern Appalachia. Deana is wildlife biologist who works for the forest service. She enjoys her hermitic existence living in a cabin on a mountain, keeping track of the wildlife in the National Forest. This all changes when a young hunter comes into her life, for whom she feels a strong physical desire. Lusa is an academic who marries a farmer from the valley, and moves with him onto his farm. She is widowed and left alone amidst his clannish family, mounting farm debts, and a desire to work in tune with the land in contrast to the local farming wisdom. I can't remember the name of the third protaganist, but he is a very religious retired agricultural vocational teacher in his eighties. He is plagued by his scandalous (She wears shorts and doesn't believe in pesticides), younger (in her seventies) neighbor who owns an apple orchard.

There were some things I really liked about Prodigal Summer. In particular I really enjoyed Kingsolver's love of the Southern Appalachian ecosystem that comes through loud and clear in the book. She was a biologist before she became a novelist, and her deep understanding of ecology, and her wonder at nature's systems is so well described. It's a good set of interwoven stories, and I enjoyed reading the book.

There were definitely some things about the book that I didn't like. Clearly Kingsolver was not writing for my half (male) of the population. I've read and enjoyed many books with female protaganists, but I felt somewhat excluded from Prodigal Summer. Instead of appealing to the universality of human emotions, there was almost a sense that Kingsolver was only writing this book for women, and didn't expect or even want men to read it. I say this not as a criticism, it's her book and she can reach out to any audience she wants, but as a factor that took away from my enjoyment of the book. What I would label as a criticism was the over obvious version of feminism that pervaded the book. Reading Prodigal Summer felt a little like talking to a 14 year old girl who has started thinking about feminism for the first time. I wanted to tell Kingsolver, "I get it! Women are in touch with nature and work with it. Men try to control nature and don't understand it." I don't resent the point. I think there is some truth in it, as long as we're talking in generalities. But it annoyed me that this well trodden ground was presented as a revelation. I also felt like there was a real sterotyping of the male chracters, and some of the female ones. The men in the story were either eye candy, backwards bible thumpers stuck in the 1950s, or dumb red-necks. God knows there have been enough stories where the female charcters have been stereotyped, and maybe there is a statement to be made by turning the tables, but characters with no complexity detract from a book, whatever the reason.
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Comments (showing 1-3)




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Deepa I agree bout her writing for women...I loved the book but I can imagine guys would feel left out.. I think even poisonwood bible is like that... she is like a 14 year old feminist :D well said.


Holly Thoughtful review that elicits the central threads in the characters' situations and lives. Interesting that what drew my empathy for the strong women leads was that they made the best of their lot and found solutions that were in harmony with the natural world. It's distressing to find so many men who can't relate to a story that is not dominated with men or in the style of a man's quest or conquest. It was so refreshing to be in a more natural world, to resolve the difficulties women face with men in charge. This may never appeal to a man, but I wish men could be more sympathetic to women and their stories instead of dismissive.


message 1: by Tom (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tom Holly wrote: "Thoughtful review that elicits the central threads in the characters' situations and lives. Interesting that what drew my empathy for the strong women leads was that they made the best of their lo..."

Thanks for commenting Holly. At the risk of sounding defensive, I think you're assuming a lot when you assume my review about one book equates to "so many men who can't relate to a story that is not dominated with men or in the style of a man's quest or conquest." I know I shouldn't really care about what other people say, but I don't particularly want to be stereotyped as a chauvinist who only likes books about men. Feel free to say whatever you want about my review of this book, but please don't assume that I'm never "sympathetic to women and their stories."


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