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.”