I finished Nancy Pinard’s BUTTERFLY SOUP the same day that Buffalo was hit by what is being called the “October Surprise Storm” as if it were a game show prize. Fortunately, where I live, we were only out of power for 12 hours, while some in the heart of Buffalo were out for 12 days. But that time spent powerless gave me extra time to consider Nancy Pinard’s second book (Shadow Dancing being her first). And consider it I did. The characters have yet to leave me.
Butterfly Soup is peopled by a very engaging cast. Although there are many aspects of the book to love–like the fine writing, the study of our human obsessiveness, the unflinching examination of the frailty of the body, the damage that secrets can do, and the many lyrical descriptive passages–it was the characters I most adored.
Rose Forrester opens the book for us, and even though we “intimately visit” with her husband Everett and her teenaged daughter Valley in successive close-third-person chapters, it is Rose and her big secret that drives the story. Fortunately, it isn’t a secret from us, the readers. We learn right off that Rose’s daughter Valley is actually the product of a brief fling with a high school heartthrob who has just returned to the same small town where Rose lives with her husband and daughter-that-isn’t-his.
There are a number of flashbacks that give us backstory, but the bulk of the story takes place in the present tense on a crazy weekend that for Rose begins with a Saturday morning phone call from the town gossip who tells her that Rob McIntyre (Valley’s real father) is back in town. Rose dresses, jumps in her car, and drives into town to see for herself. From there, her disparate emotions gradually merge into an all-consuming religious-inspired exile. When Rose makes an impulse purchase of a used nun’s bed (auctioned off in the grocery store parking lot of her home town), the bed (placed in her downstairs office) becomes a makeshift sanctuary that shelters her from what she knows will be the inevitable repurcussions from her sixteen-year-old sins.
Everett’s secret is a recently diagnosed medical condition that threatens to render him physically helpless in a few years. Already his legs are going numb and disobeying what his brain commands. To avoid acknowledging his body’s impending self-destruction, Everett takes off on a Saturday adventure: an attempt at parasailing that has disastrous (although somewhat humorous–and familiar–for those of us who have ever thought we were still young enough to try something rash) results. Along the way he finds a beagle dog that helps to keep the whole story turning in her own right (and has her own secret, too, as it turns out) and a woman who first makes him question his marriage and then helps to reassure him of the value of said marriage.
Valley is a wonderfully rendered teenaged daughter. As a mother of two of my own, and a former teenaged daughter myself, I can tell you that Valley’s depiction and deceptions are spot-on. She sneaks out that same crazy Saturday that her family seems to be self-destructing and winds up on a deserted road with a juvenile delinquent (appropriately named Snake) who happens to be a charge of Rob-the-heartthrob–MacIntyre.
All of these twists combine to create a dizzying plot of secrets-kept and secrets-revealed while life and limb hang in the balance for more than one of the protagonists. The ending? You’ll have to read the book yourself to get that–I’m no spoiler–but I can tell you that the final chapter of the book seamlessly weaves together a puppy, a quilt, a belly tattoo, a box of chocolates, and Sister Mary Theresa’s bed.