The first novel in ten years from the author of the beloved New York Times bestseller The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake, a luminous, poignant tale of a mother, a daughter, mental illness, and the fluctuating barrier between the mind and the world
On the night her single mother is taken to a mental hospital after a psychotic episode, eight year-old Francie is staying with her babysitter, waiting to take the train to Los Angeles to go live with her aunt and uncle. There is a lovely lamp next to the couch on which she's sleeping, the shade adorned with butterflies. When she wakes, Francie spies a dead butterfly, exactly matching the ones on the lamp, floating in a glass of water. She drinks it before the babysitter can see.
Twenty years later, Francie is compelled to make sense of that moment, and two other incidents -- her discovery of a desiccated beetle from a school paper, and a bouquet of dried roses from some curtains. Her recall is exact -- she is sure these things happened. But despite her certainty, she wrestles with the hold these memories maintain over her, and what they say about her own place in the world.
As Francie conjures her past and reduces her engagement with the world to a bare minimum, she begins to question her relationship to reality. The scenes set in Francie's past glow with the intensity of childhood perception, how physical objects can take on an otherworldly power. The question for Francie is, What do these events signify? And does this power survive childhood?
Told in the lush, lilting prose that led the San Francisco Chronicle to say Aimee Bender is "a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language," The Butterfly Lampshade is a heartfelt and heartbreaking examination of the sometimes overwhelming power of the material world, and a broken love between mother and child.
In Bender's astounding meditation on time, space, mental illness, and family her first novel in a decade (after The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake) a 28-year-old woman works to solidify her memories from childhood. Francie is eight years old when her mother has a psychotic break and smashes her own hand with a hammer in an attempt to destroy the "illness that could still swerve and jag inside her." Francie's aunt and uncle arrange for Francie to stay with them, and as she lays in bed at her babysitter's house anticipating her trip, she admires a lampshade covered in butterfly prints, only to discover, upon waking, a dead butterfly floating in the glass of water beside her. Desperate to hold onto the butterfly, and to hide it from the babysitter, she swallows it. Now, 20 years later, with the help of younger cousin, Vicky, who she grew up with and is like a sister, Francie builds a "memory tent," and imagines the "tiny triangular empty moneyless canvas silent casino" will restore the slippery memories of her childhood. Bender grounds the tale with observations on the ephemeral nature of moments in time ("when it seems like words won't bruise the moment"), as Francie harnesses a childlike perspective to explore the trauma of her mother's breakdown. Rich in language and the magic of human consciousness, Bender's masterpiece is one to savor.