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The Butterfly Lampshade
Cover of The Butterfly Lampshade
The Butterfly Lampshade
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
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.
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.
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About the Author-
  • AIMEE BENDER is the author of the novels The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake—a New York Times bestseller—and An Invisible Sign of My Own, and of the collections The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Willful Creatures, and The Color Master. Her works have been widely anthologized and have been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in Los Angeles.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from May 25, 2020
    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. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Agency.

  • Kirkus

    June 1, 2020
    The author revisits themes she explored in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (2010) in her latest novel. When Francie is 8 years old, her mother, Elaine, suffers a psychotic break. Elaine's struggles with mental health are nothing new, but this episode is severe enough that Elaine is institutionalized and Francie is sent from Portland, Oregon, to Los Angeles to live with her Aunt Minn, her Uncle Stan, and their new baby, Vicky. Twenty years later, Francie is still living in LA. She's managing a frame store, but she spends her free time scouring yard sales for odd treasures she can sell online. Her relationship with her adopted family is solid, if fraught--Minn and Vicky are always looking for signs of Elaine's illness in Francie. Her relationship with her mother--maintained by phone and occasional visits--depends largely on how well Elaine's medications are working. As she begins to revisit and work through what happened when she was 8, Francie withdraws from the world beyond this small circle. A reader's capacity to appreciate this novel will depend on how much time they're willing to spend inside Francie's head. Francie is smart and interesting. She is an engaging protagonist. And she notes--or it feels like she notes--every single detail of every encounter she has. Sentences like "At some point, Vicky got up to wipe down the table, and I watched all the last pieces of rice and blueberries connect to her sponge and gather together to fall into her hand" take up a whole lot of the first half of the novel. But the reader who sticks with this glacial pace will realize that Francie notices everything because her survival depended on noticing everything when she was a child. By the end, the book reveals itself as a meditation on memory, identity, and the sometimes-uncanny relationship between living beings and the inanimate world. A novel with rewards for patient and sympathetic readers.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    July 1, 2020
    Bender's first work of fiction since her short-story collection The Color Master (2013) follows a young woman through her careful examination of the traumatic event that upended her life. When Francie was eight years old, her unstable mother, Elaine, had a breakdown, smashing her own hand with a hammer. Elaine is sent to a mental institution and Elaine's pregnant sister, Minn, who is on the verge of giving birth, sends her husband, Stan, to collect Francie. But Francie refuses to fly from Oregon to California, so Stan entrusts Francie to the care of a babysitter, Shrina, and makes plans for Francie to take the train to California. Now in her mid-twenties, Francie painstakingly catalogs the minutiae of these events, trying to make sense of several magical occurrences along the way, as well as her own fear that she might carry her mother's instability within her. Francie's exhaustive but significant journey of self-examination will likely have a very specific literary appeal, but Bender fans will be glad to find her trademark combination of magic realism and quirky but relatable characters.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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The Butterfly Lampshade
A Novel
Aimee Bender
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