Deanna is a hermit. She works for the national forest service and hasn’t been down the mountain in two years. But then Eddie Bondo comes into her life and sweeps her into a love story she didn’t expect with a man who came to Zebulon in the Appalachian mountains to kill her beloved coyotes. By the end of the summer she’s pregnant, and he’s gone like the hot sun.

Lusa moved to Zebulon County to marry Cole. She was a highly educated, insect researcher until she lost her head in the clouds with Cole. Since she was married it hasn’t been heaven, his family is a tough nut to crack, and then he dies in a trucking accident and leaves the farm to her. She struggles with what to do with the place, and forms strong bonds with his family in the process.

Garnett Walker is a stubborn old man who is set in his ways and refuses to change. His neighbor, Nannie Rawley, is the thorn in his side with her organic farm and her strange thinking. But through the summer he learns to bend and flow and falls in love with Nannie.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver book cover

The Theme of Prodigal Summer

These three women, the main characters, have a love for the wilderness. They refuse to spray insecticides or kill any plant or creature that doesn’t deserve it. Nannie Rawley buys salamanders from the local fishing store and sets them free. Lusa doesn’t scream and squash bugs she finds in her house, she studies them and then lets them loose. Deanna refrains from visiting the den of the new family of coyotes so Eddie doesn’t follow her trail and shoot them.

It’s a strong theme, and while it doesn’t feel like the reader is being hit repeatedly over the head with it, it does get old. It’s understandable that some farmers cause their own problems with bugs by spraying and killing the carnivorous bugs as well as the herbivores which then increases the amount of herbivores. But did it need to be mentioned so often? The stories are lovely and give you that warm fuzzy feeling, but when the theme is stronger than the plot I have trouble paying attention.

The Characters of Prodigal Summer

The distinct personalities of the characters really come through easily in Barbara Kingsolver’s writing. She is capable of showing you a piece of a character without telling you everything about them. Little anecdotal stories that make the reader smile or laugh out loud. Small scenes that give the reader a sense of the character without actually spelling it out for you.

This is a story that ends very well. All the loose strings are tied up, but there’s a feeling that it will go on forever. As if you could continue vicariously living these people’s lives and there would be more exciting summers to experience.
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