I’ve loved Barbara Kingsolver for a long time, and her work has blown me a way before. Her work often tackles complicated issues and does so with a great deal of nuance, insight and consideration. Her latest book, though, takes all of this and amps it up even further, and for a highly fitting subject matter: Global Warming. Or, as Kingsolver refers to it at one point in the novel, Global Weirding.
I could talk for a long time about what made this book a fantastic read (the depth of the characters, the beautiful descriptions, the way she is able to tackle so many themes at once and still make it look easy), but my biggest impression is that we need more novels about climate change – preferably ones as good as Flight Behavior, though that might be a tall order.
Why do I say this?
As anyone who pays attention to science knows, Climate Change is real, it’s human caused, and it has truly horrific probable implications. And yet anyone who pays attention to American politics will also notice that despite being all but universally accepted within the scientific community, many people still choose to disbelieve or ignore it.
So how can fiction help?
Well I might be a bit biased (I tend to think a good book is the answer to everything, up to and including that whole meaning of life question), but fiction can get us to evaluate, consider, and explore ideas in ways that facts cannot. Fiction can take ideas and give them life, can take the abstract and make it relatable, can take information and make it human.
Climate change scares people. I know it scares the bejesus out of me. It’s hard to wrap your head around the truly apocalyptic (literally apocalyptic) implications. And Kingsolver captures this broad, big picture fear well in the novel. But she also gives the reader one specific issue and one specific family with one character in particular, to focus on.
Just as one death is a tragedy and one million deaths is a statistic (thank you Stalin), the collapse of all life on earth is an impossible prospect to consider while the ruin of the Turnbow family farm is a calamity that can and must be stopped. Though Kingsolver doesn’t ignore the big picture, she makes it something relatable. She gives it a face.
Climate change is hard to grapple with, mentally. It’s global, it’s impersonal, it’s caused by invisible things. On a cognitive level, it’s difficult to process. Putting it at the center of a novel on the other hand, makes it part of a narrative. Narratives, people can handle. Narratives the human brain understands. And narratives give of some idea of how to move forward, how to plot the next chapter, so to speak.
I encourage you all to give Flight Behavior a read (along with the handful of other novels that deal with climate change), and I encourage all you writers out there to think about testing out the literary territory that Kingsolver has bravely and beautifully pioneered.