domingo, 12 de enero de 2014
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Prodigal Summer is eventually both surprising and deceptive. It is surprising because of the twists and turns of the lives of its characters, all of whom become completely, sometimes endearingly, always engagingly real. The deception arrives subtly to enlighten, because these apparently ordinary lives with their pressingly everyday concerns grow to illustrate and then eventually represent something of great significance, being the natural world and our place within it. Thus Prodigal Summer, a novel that begins suggesting a snapshot of a single season in the lives of just three households grows into a profound statement of their relationship – all of our relationships – with the natural world and indeed life, itself.
Deanna Wolfe is a mid-forties idealist who has chosen to live as a warden and ranger in the National Forests near Zebulon in the southern Appalachians. She is studying predators, especially coyotes, but apparently yearns to worship living things, especially those that are not human. She is beginning to anticipate the menopause of her own life-cycle as she marvels at nature’s ability to both regulate and reinvent itself. Crucial in this process, she feels, is the role of the predator, the animal at the top of the food chain, and especially the females of those species, those charged with husbanding its renewal. Her work seems all absorbing.
Then one day she meets Eddie Bondo. He is not from those parts. He is a hunting cowboy-type from out West, not the type, you might think, that Deanna would have time for. He is twenty-something, almost two decades her junior and he has a body plus a way of handling it that stirs the autumnal debris of Deanna’s psyche, debris that has accumulated in her continued, self-imposed and desired isolation. After all, in magnetism opposites attract.
Not far away there is Lusa. She came to these parts to marry Cole. He was the man who lured her away from her biology and installed her on a smallholding, where even the hardest work would hardly make a living, let alone create wealth. Lusa has some relationship problems with Cole’s family. After all, she is not one of them and, perhaps more importantly, her parentage has European and Middle Eastern roots. And - at least in theory - she is not even a Christian.
And then, one day she finds herself a widow. Cole’s family are immediately closer and yet further away at the same time. Sympathy partly overrides the tensions. Lusa has to begin dealing with them directly, not through the mediation of her husband’s filter. Problems of making a living might just be solved by going into goats. Goats? At least she still has time to study her beloved insects.
Not too distant are the neighbours Garnett and Miss Rawley. They are, shall we say, at the senior end of their citizenship and perhaps as a result rather set in their ways. Garnett is not just a Christian, but one of the breed that interprets the Bible, including its timeline, quite literally and can thus locate an exact date of creation just beyond 4000BC. He might profess not to be impressed by science, but in many ways he worships it by regularly dousing parts of his land and its flora in insecticides. If only…
If only that darned neighbour, Miss Rowley, would clear the cuttings and clean up that compost where al the pests breed. But she is a declared worshipper of science and cannot bring herself to interfere in any natural process, lest human intervention gets in the way of the inevitable. Miss Rawley and Garnett are not the most companionable of neighbours.
In Prodigal Summer these three households, each with their own tensions, relationships, feuds and priorities live cheek by jowl with nature. Animals, plants, the weather, chance and inevitability press themselves to the forefront of daily concerns. Thus they find they are in contact in more ways than one. Not only must they commune with the natural world, they must coexist, even communicate as assumption, motive and consequence push them in different, sometimes conflicting directions.
Of course, given Prodigal Summer’s theme of renewal and at-oneness with nature, it is no surprise that all things female are predominant. Reproduction, its necessity, its mechanisms, its intended and unintended consequences, its intended inevitability, runs not like a thread but like a strong, perhaps unbreakable rope that ties everything together. No matter what we do or think or feel, experience tries to lead us all in the same direction, as if the destination were pre-ordained, in spite of our determined meanderings designed to deny it. In Prodigal Summer, a many of the encounters are sexual. If it does not form the main argument, then the need to mate is at least preamble. There is never time to review. Life has a habit of taking us where it wants, ideas of control or self-direction being perhaps illusory.
But in the end these people all realise that they are part of the same natural world that, independently of human-created desires and prescriptions, sets its own pace, follows its own rules, precludes exemption and decides consequence. This Prodigal Summer thus reveals its surprises to all concerned, leaving them changed and transformed, older and wiser. The reader makes the same journey.