Rating: 4.5 / 5
With prompts for a book set in Appalachia and a book in a rural setting to check off, I was pleased to see a buddy read for PRODIGAL SUMMER by Barbara Kingsolver pop up on Bookstagram (hosted by @anovelfamily and @kdbwrites). This book came highly recommended, so I immediately tracked down a copy!
PRODIGAL SUMMER follows the lievs of three very different people whose lives all overlap in surprising ways. Each has an affinity for the nature that surrounds them. The novel paints a beautiful picture of this region of southern Appalachia and the lives and loves of its inhabitants.
Deanna is a wildlife biologist who lives an isolated life in a mountain cabin working for the parks service. She is fascinated by a den of coyotes that have recently made their way into the area and are building up their population with a host of pups. When a hunter arrives on scene determined to take out the coyotes to protect the local farms’ livestock, Deanna is both disturbed by his presence and simultaneously attracted to him and his integration into her life.
Lusa is a city girl who wound up here after falling in love with her husband. She loves nature and is fascinated in particular by moths, but she is struggling to find her place here. Her husband’s family has a long history on this land and his many sisters feel very antagonistic to her living in the family home and taking part in the running of the family form.
Garrett is an older gentleman who feuds with his neighbor over their very different farming techniques. While he feels her commitment to organic gardening is causing his crops to suffer, she has arguments to be made that his use of pesticides causes even more problems.
Over the space of a single summer, alternating chapters from each of these characters’ points of view bring their lives to life on the page. They are struggling to make their way in a world that is difficult. The region has thrived in the past on tobacco crops, but the world is beginning to turn its back on tobacco. Each of these characters is isolated in his or her own way, whether by design or circumstance.
This novel is just beautifully written. I found it to be a book that I wanted to linger over and really absorb rather than fly through the pages. I was connected with each of the three characters, but I think Lusa’s story probably spoke to me the most with her ‘fish out of water’ story. Even as much as she felt isolated, she found ways to persevere and make the farm and her family life work.
I highly recommend PRODIGAL SUMMER by Barbara Kingsolver as a great summer read. Pour yourself a cold drink and sit down to really delve deep into the beautiful nature of Appalachia.