Rural Reads Plus book review: The Prodigal Summer

Rob Davies reviews The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kinsolver

During the humid month of July we read The Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, a suitably clammy read for the climate. This book is a mammoth read set within Zebulon Country in America, following three narratives that are tenuously connected to one another but tell the story of the land.

The Prodigal Summer is a perfect read for Rural Reads Plus; it is packed with contemporary rural issues that span agriculture universally. Kingsolver used the narratives to explore these themes such as hunting, genetics, isolation within the countryside, inheritance and family, along with many other smaller but still significant themes.

The first narrative called ‘Predators’ follows Deanna who is a park ranger living an isolated life on the side of Zebulon mountain. Her voluntary isolation is broken when the hunter Eddie Brando walks into her life. This narrative isn’t just about the developing relationship between Deanna and Eddie Brando but also about the issue of hunting. As a group we had conflicting opinions on this narrative, I enjoyed learning about coyotes but the characters were too flat for me.

The second narrative is entitled ‘Moth Love’ and follows Lusa who was widowed one year into her marriage; she now finds herself lost in an enormous family who don’t particularly like or trust her, one of the reasons is because she is from outside of the county. To make matters worse for Lusa she has inherited her husband’s farm which is in a lot of debt and she refuses to grow the local crop, tobacco. This was my favourite narrative, Kingsolver writes about grief, loss and surviving so vividly, I was almost going through the emotions as well.

The third narrative ‘Old Chestnuts’ took the longest to warm up and develop. It’s about two elderly farmers who are neighbours with very different farming methods, in fact it comes down to organic vs GM crops. However, it’s also about disease within trees and the loss of species.

This was the second consecutive book we unanimously enjoyed and would recommend it to everyone. This August we’re reading A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair.

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