Prodigal Summer Summary

Barbara Kingsolver

Prodigal Summer

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Prodigal Summer Summary

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Prodigal Summer is the fifth novel by American author Barbara Kingsolver, and was first released in 2000. It focuses on a small town in Appalachia during a hot, humid summer, and tells three interlocking stories of love, loss, and family against the backdrop of the Virginian Mountains. The main characters are Deanna Wolfe, a solitary woman working as a park ranger; Lusa Landowski, a recently widowed entomologist who is caught in a nasty feud with her late husband’s family; and Garnett Walker, an elderly man whose lifelong dream is to restore an extinct American chestnut tree and see it grow again. Although they are all solitary and isolated individuals, they each have a passion for nature and, over the course of the summer, experience great changes in their lives that open them up to the wider world. Exploring themes of love, loss, and the connections between man and nature, like many of Kingsolver’s books, Prodigal Summer heavily emphasizes ecological themes and features separate but interconnected plots

Prodigal Summer is divided into four segments, each focusing on a different character. The first segment, titled “Predators”, belongs to Deanna. She works in the Zebulon National Forest as a park ranger, and has had this job for two years. She essentially created her own job when she wrote her college thesis on protecting native wildlife, especially coyotes. She enjoys the solitude of the forest, which is disturbed by the appearance of Eddie Bondo, a hunter and sheep farmer from Wyoming. Although Deanna feels an immediate connection to Eddie, they have vastly different ideas about protecting animals, especially when it comes to predators like coyotes. Eddie, a farmer of prey animals, views them as a danger to his flock. The two engage in many spirited debates about what the proper role of predators is, with Deanna defending them as a natural part of the environment. The relationship between man and nature is a frequent theme in the book. Eventually, Eddie leaves both Deanna and the coyotes alone, telling her he’s met his match. However, Deanna will never forget him as she’s carrying his child, and leaves the forest to live with her father’s former girlfriend, Nannie Rawlings, and raise her child.

Lusa gets the second segment, and her chapters are titled “Moth Love”. She’s an entomologist trapped in a lonely marriage in Lexington, where she feels out of place. She and her husband Cole argue frequently, and his family treats her like an outsider. However, shortly after her story begins, her husband is killed in a car accident and she struggles to cope. Not wanting to stay in a place that reminds her so much of him, Lusa picks up and leaves for Zebulon County. There, she decides to try to find out more about Cole and his family. He has roots in Zebulon, and she goes from relative to relative, trying to get a better picture of the man she married and but barely knew. As she learns more, both she and Cole’s family open up to each other. She becomes particularly close to Cole’s sister, who is sick and worried about leaving her children behind when she dies. When she eventually passes, Lusa decides to adopt her sister-in-law’s children, and she becomes a true part of the Widener family through this adoption.

The third chapter, titled “Old Chestnuts”, focuses on Garnett. He is an elderly widower living alone in his childhood home, and doesn’t get along with his neighbor, Nannie Rawlings. He farms, but his real passion is his beloved chestnut trees. He believes that pesticides are the only way to protect his crops and trees, while Nannie is an organic farmer who believes his pesticides are harming her plants. The two bicker frequently but eventually learn a great deal about each other. By the end of the chapter, they have learned to compromise and even become close in their old age. There are hints that a mutual affection may be developing.

The fourth and final section takes a different approach, retelling the characters’ stories from the perspective of one of the coyotes, which tracks up and down the valley to protect her own family. Through the coyote’s eyes, we see new connections between the characters forming. Deanna’s father is also the father of Nannie Rawling’s daughter. Garnett is the grandfather of Lusa’s adopted children. These small connections create a bigger tapestry that emphasizes the book’s theme – we are all connected, man, animal, and nature.

Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, essayist, and poet. Raised in rural Kentucky, many of her books revolve around themes of rural life and nature, as well as social justice and biodiversity. A biologist as well as an author, she is the author of eight works of fiction, including most famously The Poisonwood Bible. She has also published three nonfiction works, two books of essays, and a poetry collection. A winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the UK’s Orange Prize, as well as the National Humanities Medal, she is also a Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award nominee. She is the founder of the Bellwether Prize, which rewards unpublished authors whose works support positive social change.