The first 50 pages or so were pretty tough going for me - I nearly gave it up, in fact. The first 15 or so pages follows the main character as she walks up a hill. Admittedly, she had a lot on her mind, and we are made privy to that, but still - 15 pages to walk up a hill.
But when she gets to the top of the hill the story starts to pick up some steam. And by about page 50 you really, really want to know what happens next.
The main character is a young woman named Dellarobia Turnbow, a smart woman stuck in a dumb marriage with a kind but incredibly dull husband. They have two children and a meager income, in a town in Tennessee that consists of equal measures of poverty, stupidity, and bigotry. Dellarobia tries to fit in (she’s a local girl), but longs to esacape.
The main story line is that the annual monarch butterfly migration has gone off course, and instead of wintering in Mexico they have settled in the Turnbow woods. This is a great disaster because that migration consists of essentially the entire monarch population, and if it doesn’t survive the winter, monarchs will be a thing of the past.
This is used as a vehicle for talking about global warming and its causes and effects, and about the root causes of
redneck rural resistance to the idea of human caused global warming. Kingsolver actually treats the latter topic with a good deal of discretion, and does her best to present the point of view of people who are clearly on the wrong side of science and rational thinking.
The intertwined stories, of Dellarobia’s search for a better life and the plight of the butterflies, work well together and kept me hanging on to the end.
The book might have been a bit of a blunt instrument in some ways, but Kingsolver’s apparently keen grasp of the lives of the rural poor kept it from being too elitist - at least for us urban educated elite types who can laugh off a bit of mockery of ourselves. I doubt the book will be a big hit in eastern Tennessee, but I don’t know.