I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel, Flight Behavior. As usual, this Kingsolver book is about the concept of “home.” In this particular narrative, she speaks of the tenuous nature of the “home.” She weaves a story that describes the tension between the draw toward home and the desire to fly away to something else. If we are honest with ourselves, we have all experienced this tension. We build ourselves a warm and cozy life only to find ourselves just a little bored and wondering what someone else’s life is like. I am convinced that this partly explains the tremendous popularity of movies and other forms of entertainment. They briefly allow us to escape and immerse ourselves in the other life.
Along with the tension of home versus flight, the author looks at “conformity” versus “difference.” In one scene, we find the protagonist, Dellarobia, considering her son, Preston, her boss, Ovid Byron, and her best friend, Dovey.
[Preston’s] earnest expression and level brow moved Dellarobia to a second sight: Preston would go far. Maybe he’d be a vet, farmers were crying for them around here. Or even the kind of vet that looks after elephants in zoos. For all her worry about his lack of advantages, Preston would be like Ovid Byron. Already he seemed set apart by a devotion to his own pursuits that was brave and unconforming. People were rarely like that, despite universally stated intentions. Most were like herself and Dovey, the one-time rebel girls with their big plans to fly out of here. Her boldness had been confined to such tiny quarters, it counted for about as much as mouse turds in a cookie jar. . . . But here sat her lionhearted son. Maybe it wasn’t a decision, something drawn from the soup of birth. A lightning strike.1
Kingsolver shows great depth of knowledge of the human spirit. She tells of Preston, a boy who is “set apart by a devotion to his own pursuits that was brave and unconforming;” and then points out that people are rarely like that. Oh sure, the universally stated intention is that people want to be different from the crowd, but the fact is, most conform to the crowd. That’s what makes it the crowd.
How important is conformity or non-conformity? Is this part of our desire to find a comfortable home? If we “fit in,” things can be more comfortable for a time; but, what happens when we start to think for ourselves; what happens when we diverge from the herd? I must ask myself, “In what ways do I conform?” “In what ways do I diverge?” “How much am I truly thinking for myself?” These are large philosophical, ethical, theological, and lifestyle questions. Barbara Kingsolver has been successful in drawing me into reflection upon these questions. That is the value of a good book.
1 (Kingsolver 2012, 265, 266)
Kingsolver, Barbara. Flight Behavior. Toronto: Harper Perennial, 2012.