2 Sentence Summary
Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, published in 2000, is a captivating exploration of reconnecting with nature and embracing the wild. The novel’s vivid depiction of the Appalachian wilderness, driven by the author’s deep appreciation for the beauty of the natural world will resonate with you if you have a fondness for nature’s indelible charm.
Summary Read Time: Less than 4 minutes
Actual Book Length: 444
First Published in: 2000
Below is the detailed yet quick Prodigal Summer summary:
“Prodigal Summer” opens with our first protagonist, Deanna Wolfe, a park ranger living in Zebulon National Forest. A chance encounter with a hunter, Eddie Bondo, ushers in an intense summer romance, despite their differing perspectives on coyotes – an animal Deanna deeply respects. As the season wanes, Deanna is left alone, pregnant, and unsure of Eddie’s final message as he leaves the forest.
Deanna’s revelation of her past uncovers her connection to Nannie Rawley, a figure central to the novel. Though she fails to influence Eddie’s hostility towards coyotes, she seeks solace and support in Nannie as she prepares for motherhood.
The narrative then shifts to Lusa Maluf Landowski, a city-bred entomologist who marries into a Zebulon County farming family. Lusa’s life takes a turn when her husband Cole Widener passes away unexpectedly. It leaves her with a farm she’s unsure of managing.
The Widener sisters expect Lusa’s return to city life, but she is determined to continue in Zebulon. Encountering her grief and the historical echoes of the Widener family, Lusa formulates a plan to raise goats for religious feasts. Alongside her nephew, Little Rickie, and her neighbour, Garnett Walker, she sets her ambitious project in motion.
As Lusa forges ahead with her farming endeavors, she forms a bond with Jewel, Cole’s youngest sister and a fellow misfit. As Jewel battles terminal cancer, Lusa tenderly steps in, proposing to adopt Jewel’s children, Lowell and Crys. This leads Lusa to a renewed connection with Garnett, the children’s paternal grandfather. As Lusa’s story culminates, she feels a sense of belonging on the farm, finding solace in the thriving goat business and her newly embraced role in the Widener family.
The narrative shifts to Garnett Walker III, a retired heir of a logging family. Post the devastation of the American chestnut tree, he attempts to rejuvenate his family’s legacy by crossbreeding the American and Chinese chestnut trees. Yet, he spends much of his time ruminating over his late wife, Ellen, and his contentious relationship with his neighbor, Nannie Rawley.
Nannie, an organic apple orchard owner, often irks Garnett with her refusal to use pesticides, allowing the intrusion of pests onto Garnett’s property. However, despite their ideological differences on nature and mankind’s role within it, an unlikely affinity grows between them. They exchange acts of kindness, fostering a tender connection as they anticipate the arrival of their grandchildren.
“Prodigal Summer” concludes with a coyote’s perspective, foreshadowing the continued growth of the coyote population in Zebulon.