7 reviews

Prodigal Summer
by Barbara Kingsolver

Published: 2000-10-17
Audio Cassette : 0 pages
9 members reading this now
21 clubs reading this now
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Recommended to book clubs by 7 of 7 members

Triumphing once again, Barbara Kingsolver has written a beautiful new novel: a hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature, and of nature itself

Prodigal Summer weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives in southern Appalachia. At ...

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Triumphing once again, Barbara Kingsolver has written a beautiful new novel: a hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature, and of nature itself

Prodigal Summer weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives in southern Appalachia. At the heart of these intertwined narratives is a den of coyotes that have recently migrated into the region. Deanna Wolfe, a reclusive wildlife biologist, watches them from an isolated mountain cabin where she is caught off-guard by Eddie Bondo, a young hunter who comes to invade her most private spaces and her solitary life. Down the mountain, another web of lives unfolds as Lusa Maluf Landowski, a bookish city girl turned farmer's wife, finds herself in a strange place where she must declare or lose her attachment to the land that has become her own. And a few more miles down the road, a pair of elderly, feuding neighbors tend their respective farms and wrangle about God, pesticides, and the possibilities the future holds.

Over the course of one long summer, these characters find connections to one another, and to the land, and the final, urgent truth that humans are only one piece of life on earth.

Read by the author.

Editorial Review

There is no one in contemporary literature quite like Barbara Kingsolver. Her dialogue sparkles with sassy wit and earthy poetry; her descriptions are rooted in daily life but are also on familiar terms with the eternal. With Prodigal Summer, she returns from the Congo to a "wrinkle on the map that lies between farms and wildness." And there, in an isolated pocket of southern Appalachia, she recounts not one but three intricate stories.

Exuberant, lush, riotous--the summer of the novel is "the season of extravagant procreation" in which bullfrogs carelessly lay their jellied masses of eggs in the grass, "apparently confident that their tadpoles would be able to swim through the lawn like little sperms," and in which a woman may learn to "tell time with her skin." It is also the summer in which a family of coyotes moves into the mountains above Zebulon Valley:

The ghost of a creature long extinct was coming in on silent footprints, returning to the place it had once held in the complex anatomy of this forest like a beating heart returned to its body. This is what she believed she would see, if she watched, at this magical juncture: a restoration.
The "she" is Deanna Wolfe, a wildlife biologist observing the coyotes from her isolated aerie--isolated, that is, until the arrival of a young hunter who makes her even more aware of the truth that humans are only an infinitesimal portion in the ecological balance. This truth forms the axis around which the other two narratives revolve: the story of a city girl, entomologist, and new widow and her efforts to find a place for herself; and the story of Garnett Walker and Nannie Rawley, who seem bent on thrashing out the countless intimate lessons of biology as only an irascible traditional farmer and a devotee of organic agriculture can. As Nannie lectures Garnett, "Everything alive is connected to every other by fine, invisible threads. Things you don't see can help you plenty, and things you try to control will often rear back and bite you, and that's the moral of the story."

Structurally, that gossamer web is the story: images, phrases, and events link the narratives, and these echoes are rarely obvious, always serendipitous. Kingsolver is one of those authors for whom the terrifying elegance of nature is both aesthetic wonder and source of a fierce and abiding moral vision. She may have inherited Thoreau's mantle, but she piles up riches of her own making, blending her extravagant narrative gift with benevolent concise humor. She treads the line between the sentimental and the glorious like nobody else in American literature. --Kelly Flynn


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Discussion Questions

From the Publisher:

1. Why do you think this book is entitled Prodigal Summer? In what ways do all of the characters display "prodigal" characteristics? Who, or what, welcomes them home from their journeys?

2. Deanna is the self-appointed protector of coyotes and all predators. Is she disturbing nature's own ways of dealing with upsets? What about Garnett and his quest for a blight-free chestnut tree -- is this "good" for nature?

3. How does the relationship between Deanna and Eddie Bondo change them both? Should Deanna have told Eddie about the pregnancy? Do you think he already knew and that was one of the reasons he left when he did?

4. When Nannie and Garnett hug, a huge barrier between them drops and they both gain a basic understanding of each other's humanness and vulnerability. Do you think a romantic relationship between them will ensue? How much does Garnett's unrecognized longing for love and human contact account for the shift in his perception of Nannie and the greater world around him? What else influences the shift in Garnett? Does Nannie change as well?

5. The three major story lines are named "Predators," "Moth Love," and "Old Chestnuts." Why, besides acknowledging her respect for coyotes, spiders and other predatory creatures, are Deanna's chapters named "Predators?" Does her love of predators make her the "natural" lover of Eddie Bondo? How does Lusa's life mirror the life cycle of her beloved moths? How does her love of insects lead to her emergence from her cocoon of grief (i.e. her relationship to Crystal)? How do Garnett and Nannie remind you of "old chestnuts?" Are they extinct? Are they the few lone trees left alive after a blight?

Suggested by Members

What was your favorite of the 3 story lines? Why?
What was the significance of each of the chapter titles? How do they relate to the characters in each?
by kamj3 (see profile) 08/20/09

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Good read"by Brenda K. (see profile) 03/28/13

The three characters are so different and so engaging it is hard to put down. That the author tells each character's story separately makes it so easy to keep track of each story. They way they tie together... (read more)

  "Prodigal Summer"by Caitlin T. (see profile) 07/25/12

This book had a slower start than Barbara Kingslover's novel, "Poisonwood Bible" but nevertheless about halfway through I was drawn in and intrigued by the three characters whose stories were sure to intertwine... (read more)

  "Lush and Brilliant"by Jackie S. (see profile) 04/27/12

Barbara Kingsolver's writing style and descriptive detail is lush and brilliant.

  "A lush story of complex relationships within families, nature and self"by Stephanie L. (see profile) 08/18/11

  "just gals with a side of vino"by tracy s. (see profile) 12/13/10

A must read!

  "Nicely written"by Katie M. (see profile) 12/27/09

Over all enjoyed this book. Currently & in the future will suggest this book to others. A true joy to read.

  "Beautifully Crafted"by Jennifer K. (see profile) 08/20/09

The book masterfully weaves 3 story lines together with a common thread of concern for nature and our impact upon it. The perspective is so well presented that it will change what you see when you look... (read more)

  "Enchanting!"by Donna D. (see profile) 03/27/09

Three wonderful parallel stories of women whose lives are linked in subtle ways. The author's narrative is magical, and the characters are so well developed that they seem like old friends by the time... (read more)

  "3/5 by 4 members"by Mindy H. (see profile) 01/26/09

  "What goes around, comes around"by Yvonne D. (see profile) 11/29/08

Very interesting. Teaches us to remain true to ourselves but not lose sight of who are friends are. Also thought it was good in trying to teach not to judge others. It was good.

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