Despite the obvious parallels between the butterfly life cycle and the metamorphosis of the main character, Dellarobia, Kingsolver has managed to tell many stories here without hammering us with the symbolism. Married and pregnant at 17, ten years later Dellarobia is about to walk away from a marriage that should never have been. That she loves her children is obvious, but that doesn’t mean she loves her life. She’s on her way up the mountain for a tryst, to cross a line from which there can be no return, when she sees the butterflies for the first time. Without her glasses on they look like a valley of fire. She turns back, the line never crossed, yet her life will never be the same.
Monarchs in the Appalachians instead of Mexico is Kingsolver’s way to talk about global warming in this book, and although other readers have found it too heavy handed, I managed to learn through Dellarobia’s eyes, as someone who didn’t know anything about climate change, but who, ultimately, as a farmer, is living with the consequences of it every day. Her life is changed forever with the arrival of the butterflies, and those who come to study them, and as each layer is pulled back we can see her emerging from the gloom.
Kingsolver never denigrates the simple life of the characters in this book. In contrast, one scene in which Dellarobia is being lectured by one of the many visitors to reduce her carbon footprint is a testament to the folks who have no such need. “Fly less?” Dellarobia thinks, incredulously? Each character in this book is well crafted, even those we encounter for a short time, and they are unfolded for us as Dellarobia’s awakening reveals them more fully to her for the first time.