In Lab Lit, Fiction Meets Science of the Real World

From The New York Times:

LabIn Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel, “Flight Behavior,” a central character is an entomologist tracking the effects of global climate change on monarch butterflies. The scientist, Ovid Byron, shows up at the Appalachian farm of Dellarobia Turnbow after she discovers a vast immigration of monarchs, displaced from their Mexican wintering spot by floods caused by global warming. There’s a love story, of course, and a coming-of-age story (Dellarobia finally gets to go to college), and an intergenerational buddy story — her precocious 6-year-old, Preston, bonds with Dr. Byron. But the take-away of this novel is that nature is off kilter, spinning out of control, changing before our very eyes.

As she did in “Prodigal Summer” (2000), Ms. Kingsolver uses fiction to advocate for environmental awareness. But this advocacy is embedded in a compelling narrative of love and loss, opportunities taken or missed, characters who behave in complex and sometimes perplexing ways. Dellarobia Turnbow and her family are dirt-poor, and a summer of incessant rain has left them desperate. The timberland where she discovers the butterflies has already been promised to a lumber company. Save the butterflies or save the Turnbows? Along with a suspenseful and sweetly told story, the science-nerd reader gets some basic ecology: “The temperature at which a wet monarch will freeze to death,” Dr. Byron tells Dellarobia, “is minus four degrees centigrade” (25 above zero Fahrenheit), meaning the monarchs are threatened by more than the proposed logging. That temperature range, Dr. Byron goes on, is “an inevitable event, for this latitude.”

“Flight Behavior” fits neatly into a genre of serious fiction with a snappy new name: lab lit.

More here.

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