Here is a story of butterflies landing on a mountain in appalachia and setting off more than just a tiny breeze in the unfolding of their wings.
While the story is about Dellarobia Turnbow, the wife of a dirt-poor farming family suddenly faced with the choice of clear cutting their mountain to save their farm or leaving the forest where for the first time ever Monarch butterflies are clustering in their migration, the deeper narrative is an illustration of class differences.
Kingsolver unflinching portrays Della’s small-town sensibilities and narrow view of the world. I cringed along with Della as she spouts off wikipedia level knowledge of butterflies to a Ph.D level scientist who invades her life and shows her other possibilities. I was affronted and ashamed along with Della as she explained the reality of her high school education to urban grad school kids who never had to question running water or electricity, and whose livelihood wasn’t dependent on capricious weather, climate, or natural catastrophes.
There is a scene where Della confronts the Ph.D and explains to him why/how folks in their town doubt climate change, positioning the belief as part of a package of beliefs her family/town took as a result of partisan divide leaving no choice.
Kingsolver pictures Della, when confronted with people living a different reality, as being able to transcend that divide in a complex way.
There’s lots of emotional change going on here, with Della’s relationship with her own self-worth, her mother-in-law, her husband, and the blossoming of her son’s interest in biology all transforming as a result of the butterfly invasion.
There is a lot of rumination in this book, and thoughts, and consequently less dialogue and action. It begins and ends with nature throwing Della a massive curve to her plans, and I sometimes felt the metaphor was a bit overbearing, but in the end, I left Della awed and worried both by the society we’ve created in the USA.