The Butterfly House


The Butterfly House **** by Marcia Preston

I’m joining Jain with my Edible Book Review at Food for Thought, where pages from your book magically mix with the kitchen and your camera.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book and enjoyed it more than I thought I would, despite its difficult subject matter. Its imagery was so evocative, it had me wanting to “to sip nectar and float above the world on psychedelic wings” myself. Instead, I confess to stalking more than a few butterflies for this review with my camera in hand. We’ve had an unusual number this summer at the lake–more than I can remember seeing in summers past.

It is a coming of age story, as well as a story of friendship that is tested by a tragic event that has lasting repercussions. Love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge, life and death are all covered in this book, with the characters resembling butterflies themselves. . .some beautiful, some bright, some fragile and delicate. As secrets are revealed these characters go through their own metamorphosis and transformations.

As a child, Bobbie Lee finds refuge from her troubled life at her best friend’s house~ Rockhaven. An exotic, colorful world, where her friend’s mother, Lenora, raises butterflies and the glass-walled sun porch hosts a kaleidoscope of fluttery wings. With Cincy and Lenora, Bobbie is nurtured with the same loving care of Lenora’s prized butterflies and finds the family she’s always yearned for. When misunderstandings cause relationships to strain and begin to unravel, Rockhaven is transformed from a haven to a place of horror. A decade later, Bobbie is still haunted, and ultimately has to face some uncomfortable truths that’s the catalyst for her journey of self-discovery.

“Cynthia Jaine’s mother kept butterflies in the house. Summer afternoons, from grade school to high school, I pedaled my bike up the steep, winding road to Rockhaven, where my best friend lived in an enchanted world of color and light.”


“The green aroma enveloped us even before I stepped onto the tiled floor and gaped at the ceiling of vines, backlit by diffused sunlight. Plants tangled at our feet and sprouted like fountains from massive pots. Along the glass walls, table planters of dark soil nourished a jungle of spiky fronds and lacy ferns. Occasional bright flowers glowed like Christmas lights among the greenery. And weaving through the maze, multicolored butterflies flapped and floated, random and slow as the river beyond the glass.”

“Once alone, I stood stock-still, my head thrown back in wonder, and inhaled the chaos around me. A zebra-striped butterfly flitted from bloom to bloom. In all four states, I’d never seen anything so beautiful. I wanted to take it all inside me—to sip nectar and float above the world on psychedelic wings.”

“Lenora Jaines occupied her house with the same airy freedom as the butterflies. Mundane things like grocery shopping rarely occurred to her. In the midst of putting together supper for the three of us, she’d discover with genuine surprise an absence of milk, or cooking oil or bread.”


“I ran a gloved hand over the picture of a tiger swallowtail on the cover and read aloud, ‘The Golden Nature Guide to Butterflies and Moths, 423 illustrations in color.’”



Bobbie’s mother is an alcoholic who neglects her daughter and washes her dry waffles down with wine for breakfast. . .

 I hate dry waffles. . .

“In the photos, the antenor’s black wings appeared delicate and narrow. The forewings were marked with white spherical spots that melded along the bottom of the hindwings into rounded crescent-shapes of pale yellow to red-orange. The antenor had a wingspan of five to six inches and a life cycle virtually undocumented by science.”

 Bobbie is recruited by Lenora as her research assistant, which strengthens their bond and further alienates and causes resentment between Bobbie and her mother :

“Like the mother of teenagers, I was appalled by the appetites of my children. Thanks to Lenora’s green thumb and Miracle Gro, the imported pipevine had flourished, but I worried that they’d defoliate the plant and want more. I watched in awe as they split their skins and emerged larger and hungrier into the next instar, the stages between molts.They were beautifully patterned with black, white and rust stripes around their bodies, which were large at the head and tapered toward a smaller blunt end.”

“For one suspended moment, I forgot everything but the magic and incredible risk of the creature’s transformation. Inside the protective shell of the chrysalis, all identifiable parts of the caterpillar had dissolved into a fragile genetic soup. The slightest trauma at that point could thwart the miracle of reorganization into this complex, winged beauty.”


 In a moment of desperation, Bobbie runs away from home in search of the father she’s never known. Her only hope to find him is her Aunt Olivia, who takes her in briefly and fattens her up, starting with blackberry cobbler & ice cream. . .

 A super easy Blackberry Cobbler~ recipe, courtesy of Southern Living.


“Something splits. Perhaps a moment of terror accompanies the sudden loosening of boundaries, before oxygen flushes threadlike veins with rush of impending escape. Now the forelegs, still clamped to its chest, strain outward; the body wrenches. The head and limp antennae pop free of the casing. Exhausted, the creature waits. Breathes. Feels strength and impulse returning.”


“It flexes and writhes. The thorax and front legs emerge from the split pupal case. The butterfly rests a few moments, then tugs its entire body free. Moving one leg stiffly after another, it climbs a twig, abandoning the empty husk of its former life.”


“The night is a gentle sanctuary. The antenor breathes humid air through spiracles along its sides while fluids engorge the veins in its crumpled wings. Slowly, unevenly, the membranes unfurl, a flower unfolding with time-lapse grace.”


Ten years later, Bobbie finds herself on a journey to face her past, she has a chicken salad sandwich as she’s travelling~ I confess to getting carried away with the butterfly cookie cutter. . .


“At last the simmering black wings stretch taut and the veins harden into ribs. The miracle is complete. Sluggish and vulnerable, the antenor opens and closes its wondrous new limbs, clinging to the twig for balance. Imprinted in its genes is the knowledge of flight and of procreation. Opening and closing, drying its wings, it awaits the warmth of the sun.”


Be sure to visit Food for Thought to see what everyone is reading & eating!

  7 comments for “The Butterfly House

  1. August 14, 2010 at 12:27 am

    A beautiful post!

  2. August 14, 2010 at 7:42 am

    I found myself holding my breath as I read this review, for fear of startling the butterflies…your photographs are so real, I truly was afraid to breathe!

    Your Portmeirion china with their winged
    decorations are the perfect backdrop for your butterfly pancakes & blackberry cobbler with ice cream & that darling the butterfly cookie cutter sandwich! All appear delicious!

    You have such a creative mind & go to such lengths for FFT. I always enjoy my visits to your blog.

  3. August 14, 2010 at 7:52 am

    This is quite beautiful…

  4. August 14, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Mary, you’ve done it again. What an amazing post with all these elegant butterflies and scrumptious food. Butterfly pancakes ~ only on your boat! LOL I like my pancakes dry and then dip each bite into a pool of maple syrup.
    Thanks for sharing another extraordinary review. ~ Sarah

  5. August 14, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    you must know by now whenever i pull up to your blog i just plop down, kick up my feet and soak in all the goodness… to put it mildly, YOU WOW ME!

    and wowed i am… just taking in all your gorgeous shots. this book is me too, i will be ordering it as soon as i stop gazing at all your wonder…

    and now you stunning me once again with butterfly waffles, does your brain ever burn out, just throw a burnt pop tart down on aluminum foil on a chipped formica counter with green mold and call it a day?

    you just exude perfection to me… i have to confess, i slowly look at your post. when i think i have seen as much good as i get, i look over to the scroll bar, fearing i am at the end, but i get so excited to see i am still only halfway through and i have so much more to enjoy! its one of my simple pleasures in life :-)

    like seeing a butterfly in my cobbler…

    on in my sandwich~

    oh that was all just truly exceptional… i am breathless… yep beauty can actually stun me quiet!

    i had seen the book butterflies of the grand canyon, it had poor reviews so i skipped it, but this i am sure i will enjoy. ANOTHER magically treat thru your eyes, gosh i love how you share so much good stuff :-) next year i am going to try and be just like you, i won’t do everything i read, just do 2 at a time, and try desperately to do them as well as you… i love the whole wonderful journey you share, you are truly outstanding in your little vignettes, i am grateful you took up blogging, you have so much to share i can’t wait to see what you do over and over again!

  6. August 16, 2010 at 3:00 am

    Mary! This post is amazing! Each one I read seems even better than the last! How very interesting….butterfly shaped cookie cutter sandwiches and all! Your blog is a feast for the eyes! Thanks for making my day!

  7. Leigh
    August 16, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Beautiful….I want to read this book!

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