The novel is comprised of three parallel stories, all located in a small geographic are around (probably fictitional) Mount Zebulon, in Zebulon County, Virginia. A woman leads each of the stories. In the Predators story the woman is a 47 year old divorced wildlife biologist, employed on the mountain to care for a parcel of wilderness. She wrote her thesis on coyotes and ends up shacking up with a rancher who wants to kill them. In the Old Chestnuts story the woman is a 75 year old grower of apples who refuses to spray for bugs. Her story is mostly told from the perspective of a judgmental old coot who lives next door. He is trying to breed a new Chestnut tree that is resistant to the blight. And in the Moth Love story another young academic is widowed and left with a large family-in-law and a farm which she populates with goats. The women's lives are intimately intertwined, but you don't learn that until later in the stories.
For me the stories of wilderness and farming in Virginia were especially poignant. My friend Caroline who has been here for the summer is originally from Virginia. She has not heard of Mount Zebulon. Her parents have died in the last year, and two of her siblings have cancer. She will inherit her family farm, which is in the Va mountains, just across the ridge from West Virginia. Her father taught her to farm. She knows how to garden and run cattle. She says "I will end up there."
I dream of ending up there too. I dream of being a country doctor, and growing my drugs in the herb gardens around my house. I dream of living beside the wild cascading river. I know it is there. I have been there. And this book took me another layer deeper into imagining it.
Part of the charm of Barbara Kingsolver's storytelling is that being from Kentucky she knows how provincial people can be. She is forgiving of the rural narrowmindedness. Kingsolver is also educated in the ecologies of wilderness and farming. She paints a vivid picture of the alternatives in each situation. In this book she particularly explains the value of a predator, featuring the coyote. She paints a vivid picture of a coyote family--a sisterhood united in providing for one litter of pups.
It's only in the very end of the book that it becomes clear Kingsolver is drawing a parallel between the coyote sisters and the three women on the mountainside. All are united in fighting to maintain the beautiful productive wild balance of nature. All are willing to sacrifice for this thing that they love. I am grateful that I read this lovely novel. I should know by now that I often learn as much from fiction as I do from nonfiction.
As a bonus, I found in the book my credit receipt from Bookman's, the local used book store. They still owe me $40 worth of books, but I thought I had lost the credit. But there it was, tucked in this novel two years ago. Thank goodness for final exams.