Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Hoarding Beauty

Review: The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson

It would be easy to think of this as a crime novel; after all, the initial scenes are set in the interview room of an FBI building. The language at first is of crime and criminals. Identity. Victims. Perpetrator. Evidence. We are given few clues about the interviewee's status in the "case" that is gradually being revealed through her testimony.

The young woman on the other side of the table is coy and sullen by turns with the lead interviewer, Victor Hannoverian, and outspokenly hostile to his partner, Brandon Eddison. She has no formal ID, and the men only know her name as "Maya" because that's all she will tell them. 

Further frustrating both FBI agents, and infuriating the mercurial Eddison, she will not answer any questions with a direct answer. Instead, she shares stories of her life in the Butterfly Garden.

What unfolds from these tales, as delicately as the wings of a butterfly, is a picture of community, of a family of women in a garden. We learn of Maya's strength, and the virtues and flaws of the other women in the garden through her narrative. Victor needs all his patience (developed from dealing with teenage daughters) to cope with Maya and his partner alike, as he struggles to get a clear picture of all that happened in the garden. 

Maya herself seems unable to break free from her experience in that garden, unless she can drag her story from its cocoon and reveal it in her own way. As she does, we see that hero, victim, rescuer and perpetrator can be fluid categories. Crime is merely the bare skin this novel wears. Like tattoo ink underneath that skin is love both profane and sacred: the gluttonous acquisition of beauty for its own sake, and the open love of one's family in spite of faults and abilities.

I can share no more without spoilers. I only share this much to convince you that it is worth reading past the pain and horror: there is a victory (of sorts) before the end.

Liner Note

For a slightly different take on the "stealing beauty" concept of The Butterly Garden, check out the 1981 movie with Bruce Dern and Maud Adams, Tattoo