Friday, February 1, 2013

Flight Behavior, or: May I Have an Agenda Please?

Despite my extreme dislike of the Agenda-Novel, I still have traces of conviction that there is a way that it should be done and a way that it should not be done—and most authers reside in the latter.  After reading Persuasion, (a book that argues for love over propriety, and good company over good manners,) and seeing how it should be done, Kingsolver was even more of a let down.  Once an author decides to write a novel instead of a persuasive piece of nonfiction, the characters and the story should have the forefront—not the agenda.

Of course, I'm willing to concede that this could be partly personal opinion.  After all, I know many people love Lord of the Flies, and (though its message was far more integrated into the story than how Kingsolver handled her message) I found it maddeningly like being preached at.

Around midpoint, this book went from being a light engaging read (in the weight of the prose, not in significance or beauty) to being a dragging slog through an environmental primer. It did pick up at the end, but the whole agenda/lecture felt rather insulting.

One of the things that frustrated me no end was the tone Kingsolver used in her arguments...that let-me-explain-this-to-you-in-very-simple-terms tone.  As a reader, I'm stuck giving the author the final word—or so it feels whilst reading—and can't help but feel that, though I'm the frustrated one, she's the one that loses in the end, because this was not an intelligent discussion or an invitation to stimulate thought; this was a lecture.  A lecture that didn't accomplish anything.

In one sentence she  rages that nobody will open their eyes and see what is going on, and in the next she says there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to stop it.  Have you ever watched a documentary hoping to bring awareness to a serious issue, that tells you in the end that there is no solution?  What's the point of that?  OK, we're all aware, so what's next?  Live in hopelessness and despair?  What does that accomplish?

I've always been so impressed with Kingsolver's nuance and subtlety but she let it drop here. I liked the location, even though I never fully felt the setting.  The characters were interesting, and the butterflies were beautiful and amazing.  My final feelings are torn, as I did enjoy the writing, but being talked down to is never a pleasant experience. 3.5 stars for what might have been...though as time goes on I like it less and less.


  1. YES to all that you said. I was so annoyed by the lecture when the writing had such potential.

  2. YES to all that you said. I was so annoyed by the lecture when the writing had such potential.

  3. Hmm, I don't mind agenda books normally but this does sound very heavy handed. It's a shame because I really enjoyed Poisonwood Bible. Maybe it's one I'll check out from the library rather than actually buy.

  4. I have yet to read this book or any of Kingsolver's fiction. I thought I'd start here -- but maybe not? :)

  5. Very, very interesting. I did not know that you find the Agenda-Novel as annoying as I do. I get one whiff of an agenda and I shut the book forever. I cannot do it. Your review, perfectly expressed, as usual. Thanks!

  6. I enjoy Kingsolver's books, but am really torn about reading this one. I suppose I'll get to it... eventually.

  7. I purchased this book in hardcover because I am such an admirer of Kingsolver's writing. I haven't turned to it yet, but I'm walking in with eyes wide open. I can't wait. Thanks for your comments!

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

  8. I was expecting a bit of an agenda when I began reading it and thought I'd be able to overlook it, but I guess I'm not that talented after all. :) One of the things I loved about The Poisonwood Bible was how it could have had a heavy agenda tone, but didn't ever seem to go there. This was my 3rd Kingsolver (I also read The Lacuna) and I still look forward to reading more, this experience aside.


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