To an outsider, the environs of Zebulon Mountain in the southern Appalachians might seem pretty but a bit unimpressive. There's not much to see, really, just some picturesque scenery and federal parkland overlooking scattered farms and a small community whose inhabitants mostly speak in a distinctive dialect reflecting their traditional values and proud insularity. Yet during one special season, wonders abound amid the ordinary, especially for four lonely people: an alienated park ranger, a grieving young widow, an elderly botanist, and a seemingly ageless apple grower. Their stories, marked by compelling characterization and a memorable sense of place, create a readable novel that celebrates both the natural world and the power of human love. Kingsolver's many fans will be lining up for this one. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/00.]DStarr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
HA beguiling departure for Kingsolver, who generally tackles social themes with trenchantly serious messages, this sentimental but honest novel exhibits a talent for fiction lighter in mood and tone than The Poisonwood Bible and her previous works. There is also a new emphasis on the natural world, described in sensuous language and precise detail. But Kingsolver continues to take on timely issues, here focusing on the ecological damage caused by herbicides, ethical questions about raising tobacco, and the endangered condition of subsistence farming. A corner of southern Appalachia serves as the setting for the stories of three intertwined lives, and alternating chapters with recurring names signal which of the three protagonists is taking center stage. Each character suffers because his or her way of looking at the world seems incompatible with that of loved ones. In the chapters called "Predator," forest ranger Deanna Wolfe is a 40-plus wildlife biologist and staunch defender of coyotes, which have recently extended their range into Appalachia. Wyoming rancher Eddie Bondo also invades her territory, on a bounty hunt to kill the same nest of coyotes that Deanna is protecting. Their passionate but seemingly ill-fated affair takes place in summertime and mirrors "the eroticism of fecund woods" and "the season of extravagant procreation." Meanwhile, in the chapters called "Moth Love," newly married entomologist Lusa Maluf Landowski is left a widow on her husband's farm with five envious sisters-in-law, crushing debtsDand a desperate and brilliant idea. Crusty old farmer Garnett Walker ("Old Chestnuts") learns to respect his archenemy, who crusades for organic farming and opposes Garnett's use of pesticides. If Kingsolver is sometimes too blatant in creating diametrically opposed characters and paradoxical inconsistencies, readers will be seduced by her effortless prose, her subtle use of Appalachian patois. They'll also respond to the sympathy with which she reflects the difficult lives of people struggling on the hard edge of poverty while tied intimately to the natural world and engaged an elemental search for dignity and human connection. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.