there are things about this book that are wondrous and amazing, and things that are unsatisfying.
the wondrous and amazing things are an early teen'sthere are things about this book that are wondrous and amazing, and things that are unsatisfying.
the wondrous and amazing things are an early teen's love for the delicate world of fish in glass water, where it is beautiful but captive. does the fish long for the expanse of the wild? what if there were no aquariums? where would caitlin get her wondrousness?
also the early teen's, caitlin's, love for another girl, a classmate, the tenderness and devastating body melting of whose kisses she's just encountered and can't get enough of. this is a particularly lovely part of the book -- the girls' unproblematic decision that they get together solely and specifically to kiss and caress each other's skin, because kissing and touching are such sweet, sweet things, and why should they not get their fill of them? when i was a kid and was beginning to discover the absolute marvel of other girls' bodies, there was front and center in my mind, always, the belief that giving in to desire, or giving in too much, would dissolve me. not such fear for these girls.
also caitlin's and her mother's exhausted love, the woman a single mother and dock worker with long hours, the kid a lonely kid waiting for mom to pick her up after school, rising early before school and waiting around for school to start in order to accommodate mom's schedule, cold seattle winter, darkness on either side of their being together, mother and daughter, and yet, when this togetherness happens, even if mom is exhausted, there is the pure joy of bodies meeting and loving each other, just like with the young girlfriend, caitlin preparing to leave the warmth and comfort of mom's body for the warmth and comfort of her girlfriend's body in an uncomplicated, safe, held way, taking all the time she needs, getting love here and there, never alone in spite of the brutal hours and the cold and the damp.
also the mother's breakdown, the sheer brutality of it, the breaking of a sacred compact, and caitlin's mildness in the face of it, her compliance, cuz mom is wonderful, mom means well, nothing can be wrong even though this is so hard and scary, nothing can be wrong.
also, the intergenerational trauma, the passing down of scars like genetic material, the inevitability of it, and a young woman who's been playing at being the adult for so long finally reversing to her lost childhood.
the most unsatisfying thing in the book, for me, is the restorative power of money. i wondered, what if the old man had been poor? what would he have had to offer then? would his money-less offerings have been as alluring, as compelling? and why the dissolution of this terrific working class mother-daughter, daughter-girlfriend romance? doesn't the sudden infusion of cash take away an essential dimension of this book, leaving us lost, leaving us missing it?
and the conclusion, which i won't spoil -- some elements of it (sheri-the-mom dealing a death blow to her bond with caitlin, leaving her finally unsafe and alone in this key moment of her development) and their power notwithstanding -- so wrapped up, so perfect, so meaningless.
(view spoiler)[one of the tragedies of this tremendous narrative of trauma is that the only perpetrator we see is the traumatized mother. her father, the original perpetrator, is present only in his absence, and when he comes back, all contrite and hell bent on making amends, we admire him and root for him, all the while noticing, and being traumatized by, the mother's brutality. but this is hardly fair isn't it? and i wonder if all of this is a male fantasy, and an unintentional (i cannot imagine it would be intentional) woman bashing, cuz by the end of the book we are really, really angry at the mother and truly impressed with the lovely grandfather. (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
**spoiler alert** i am not sure what the biafra war is doing in this book. i am not sure what the death of a beloved parent who can no longer fight fo**spoiler alert** i am not sure what the biafra war is doing in this book. i am not sure what the death of a beloved parent who can no longer fight for survival is doing in this book. i am not sure what a mother's breakdown and subsequent abandonment are doing in this book. i am not sure what a child's servitude is doing in this book.
once you are done, once you get to the end, this feels very much like a book about being a young gay girl and the a gay woman, but there are all these other things too. they are woven together in a lovely and flowing narrative that feels entirely unforced. it feels easy, as if the composing of it were the most natural thing in the world. this makes it a fast read. this is a book one reads fast.
but then you wander what all those things are doing in the story. you also notice how much temporal back and forth there is.
life is not linear. gayness is not its own story. gayness happens in context. a dead father. an abandoning then punishing mother. servitude. schooling.
this is what i got out of this book beside the joy i took from just reading it:
if you are gay in a gay-hating place you will internalize the hatred and feel abominable. your mom, who loves you so much, will turn against you and try to de-gaify you. you will marry a man, have his children, and be raped night after night by someone you don't desire. you will feel like sex is owed to him. you will feel like your desires must be eradicated. you will despair. you will pray. you will cry. you will become numb to your own child.
so many of ijeoma's experiences resonated with me, even though there are differences between our lives. what resonated was the intolerable horror of being stuck. also, the intolerable horror of seeing one's beloved parent turn against one.
thank you chinelo okparanta for making this story end well. i could not have borne it had it ended in misery.
there is a noble tradition in memoir writing, a tradition that is basically never violated, and that tradition is that you have to leave the reader withere is a noble tradition in memoir writing, a tradition that is basically never violated, and that tradition is that you have to leave the reader with something that is not abject misery. however much travail and pain you go through, there must be something at the end that is good and solid and a glimmer of hope.
Butterfly Boy does follow the tradition but only just. this book starts off with serious pain and traces a life trajectory of pain. what makes it not a painful book to read is that it's fucking beautiful. i mean, it's gorgeous.
pain marks the narrator's personal story of queerness, and the slow reveal that masochism was built into his queerness from the start. the extraordinary scenes in which the narrator describes his first sexual experiences with older men are both brutal and tender. he needs to be owned, and fucked, and abandoned. he doesn't tell us why (he doesn't tell us many whys) but his life has been hard and poor and fraught with abandonment, and sometimes being owned and fucked is the best love one can get.
there is tremendous longing here, for a mother, for a father, for a lover, for a country, for financial security, for a culture, for belonging. chicano literature at its finest. repeated border crossings with families spread all over the place. crushing poverty. exploitative labor. rough family loving. cerveza. absent fathers who still love but whose love one doesn't know how to digest. silent but present grandmothers. gonzález doesn't sugarcoat one damn thing. he's always running, and you ache at this running because it's not even remotely good.
the mariposa is both the chicano queer and the restless butterfly, doomed to early death. it keeps on being reborn, but each new birth just lands it in the same miserable patch of dusty desert land.
i really enjoyed all of this book, then it lost me at the end.* nothing special happens at the end that should lose me, but i felt suddenly disconnecti really enjoyed all of this book, then it lost me at the end.* nothing special happens at the end that should lose me, but i felt suddenly disconnected from the book, i don't know why. maybe my mood or the weather or the phases of the moon. i don't know. but here's the thing about time: that now, as i'm writing this review, what is most present to me are not the pages and pages i enjoyed but the end i didn't.
this book is centrally about time. these observation are ironically pertinent to the marrow of this book.
but this i can say: i don't want horses in my books, but i really liked that there was a horse here called Mattone, and the name Mattone was so funny to me (it means "brick" in italian).
franscescho's story is beautiful and franschescho him/herself is beautiful.
all of the italian is pretty much perfect except for the accents, which are treated as if they were irrelevant, which they are not (they change the pronunciation). this is not a small feat.
all the characters fall in love. this is a very good thing. this book is about loving and touching.
i am not sure i cared a whole lot for anyone, but reading was fun, except at the end, as i said. i wish george's mother hadn't died. i am furious that george's mother died. this is not a spoiler.
i can't imagine anyone not liking this book, because it's so alive and fun and crazy. it's also deep in some deep way that eluded me a bit because i'm deep in a different way. i hope that won't count against me.
* (ETA) not having read any reviews, i had no idea that each individual book can have george's or franchescho's story first, randomly!
i love this book so much. thank you thank you thank you.
this may well be the most beautiful coming-of-age novel i've ever read. it's so non-clichéi love this book so much. thank you thank you thank you.
this may well be the most beautiful coming-of-age novel i've ever read. it's so non-clichéd and, you know, the author, just like the protagonist, is a poet, so basically every page is a poem.
the most astounding feature of this slender book is the treatment of sex. adolescent queer desire; straight puppy sex that is not exactly puppy-esque; the secret sex of not-very-sexual middle-aged same-sex lovers; the sex that inevitably passes between a mother and a child, a father and a(n older) child; rape (yah); and then some more mature same-sex attraction. it's all done so intelligently and so daringly, and even when it feels transgressive and icky it's still intelligent, delicate and smart.
love is sex is desire is love is tenderness is dedication is freedom is sex is desire is love. love can be entrapping or it can be safe. you have to pick your love carefully. if you can. (heartbreak.)
this is a book written by a feminist author who has no desire to traumatize her reader, but means to enrich her at every turn with the power of beauty, feeling, strength, and language.
if you are feeling like the world is a heavy place, this may be the book for you. ...more
i need to say, first off, that poetry in english is really hard for me. i can do poetry in italian, but poetry in english, tough, man.
but a friend of mine agreed to read this with me, and the experience was intense. because saeed jones is nothing if not intense.
i'm writing this before reading any review at all, because i'm sure other people's reviews will intimidate me and push me to silence. here goes.
throat. the speaker's throat is all over the text. throats are oh so vulnerable. so easily punched in, smashed, stuffed. but they are also oh so powerful, the source of our voice, the receptacles of so many pleasures -- gustatory, sexual.
father. this is a long anguished dirge to a father who could have been but wasn't. and then was taken. before things could be set to right. i miss you dad. i hate you dad. i miss you dad. come back dad. look what a good boy i am now. look: i have published a book of poems. i am famous, dad. will you like me now?
invisible mother. barely there. where are women when abusive men massacre their kids? all too often they are being massacred themselves.
pain. dang. pain pain pain. you are so young saeed, and life has already given you so much bitterness.
gender fluctuation and prostitution and drugs: stop living so dangerously, saeed.
race. bitter fruit. katrina. the exxon valdez oil spill. james bird jr.. slavery. swamps. briar patches. running running running from the dogs.
fantastic animals, long dry grass, fire, water -- objects/sites of delight, objects/sites of agony and fear.
this is what i got. so many lines worth copying, but other have done it so go read their review. gorgeous language and this: simple, even common feelings/experiences described with astoundingly powerful one-liners. ...more