"Flight Behavior." By Barbara Kingsolver. Harper. $28.99.
Strange things are happening in Appalachia. The natural world as we know it is coming to an end, overheated by human greed.
"Global warming" is a dangerously loaded expression in the rural, Republican-loving, God-fearing Tennessee of Barbara Kingsolver's didactic and preachy new novel, "Flight Behavior." The people of the fictional Feathertown have been taught by talk radio that it's a big-city scam concocted by Al Gore.
But then shifting global weather patterns bring millions of butterflies to the property of Dellarobia Turnbow's family. They're monarchs, the same ones that usually migrate to Mexico. Freaked out by warmer temperatures and a logging-induced flood that wiped out their Mexican habitat, they've turned north to spend winter in the American South.
In Kingsolver's telling, the locals are too closed-minded to wrap their brains around this scientific truth, even when it's staring them in the face.
Dellarobia, a stay-at-home mom with two young kids, is different -- she took honors English at Feathertown High. Not only does it rile her that people in Feathertown end their sentences with prepositions, but she's also one of the small minority of enlightened people there who don't automatically distrust outsiders and scientists.
When a group of lepidopterists alights in Feathertown, Dellarobia learns the dark secret behind the appearance of those millions of feathery creatures. "They said it means something's really gone wrong," she tells her husband, Cub.
"Wrong with what?" Cub asks.
"The whole earth, if you want to know," she says. "It's like the End of Days."
"Flight Behavior" has many of the trappings of a work of literary fiction. A strong female protagonist with a complicated recent past, for example, and extended, dreamy descriptions of a shifting natural landscape. But after just a chapter or two, the novel's true purpose becomes clear -- it's a Blue State morality tale about Red State people and Red State thinking.
Kingsolver, who was raised in nearby Kentucky, spends much of the 400-plus pages of this book wagging her finger at poor white people. Dellarobia, whose dreams of leaving Feathertown to go to college were thwarted by a teen pregnancy, is her Blue State-thinking stand-in. She's trying to shake loose from the roots of her lethargic culture.