THE BUTTERFLIES OF GRAND CANYON by Margaret Erhart
“…those who bear secrets are often the last to know the secret’s true nature.”
Review by Kirstin Merrihew (JAN 28, 2010)
The Butterflies of Grand Canyon names many of the beautiful invertebrates: Rheingolds, cloudless sulfurs, painted ladies, pygmy blues, green darners, and queens. Near the great natural gash in the earth’s crust, some of the human collectors of these delicate creatures find themselves passing through stages of development similar to those of the specimens they’ve netted. For example, twenty-five-year-old Jane Merkle, who has come with her older husband, Morris, to visit his sister, Dotty, and her husband, Oliver Hedquist, is arguably pent up in a chrysalis but may be on the verge of emerging and flying.
Then there is Elzada Clover, a botanist whose penchant for studying the flora of the Grand Canyon floor is being overtaken this summer of 1951 by a need to solve a thirteen-year-old unsolved murder of a local; she feels as if, for all her professional accomplishments, she has never been able to fully develop her personal inclinations. In other words, she hasn’t made it to the final stage of butterfly transformation. And inasmuch as butterflies are considered legally blind because their resolution is a hundred times worse than humans’, this novel often refers to figurative human blindness — to each other, to nature, to love, to ourselves. Just another way that the “butterflies” in this book aren’t just of the insect Lepidoptera order.
In this small Arizona community where rangers and naturalists seemingly outnumber storekeepers and postal clerks, the sometimes awkward mysteries of the human heart surface in all sorts of ways. One of the most amusing takes place during Jane’s foray to buy groceries. She and young ranger (and inexperienced romancer) Euell Wigglesworth strike up a conversation about whether she ought to buy three or four inches of liverwurst sausage. They can’t help feeling the effects of natural attraction as they grope for what to say. While in town Jane also gives in to the temptation to open someone else’s mail, and then concocts an ingenious, though underhanded, way to save herself the embarrassment of having to confess. Overcome with curiosity about the assignation being arranged in the letter, she finagles a way she can eavesdrop on the rendezvous. These two examples suggest Jane is scruples-challenged, but don’t judge her too harshly. The plot moves forward quite regularly due to overheard conversations; Jane isn’t the only culprit. And the degree to which marriage can or should forestall other attachments is a significant theme of this book, involving many characters.
The author, Margaret Erhart “is a river and hiking guide in the Grand Canyon and southern Utah” according to biographical sketch provided in The Butterflies of Grand Canyon, and one feels confident of the natural backdrop to this story. However, the characters and their odd, usually restrained conversations don’t always seem as convincing as the scenery. Yet, their cautious repression and bumbling “blindness” as they go through the habits of their days and their personal dramas also hook the reader (at least this one). And slowly, as revelations surface and both the characters and the reader have to adjust to new realities, the truth that the same things must be learned afresh by each generation is conveyed with a gentle nudge of small town shrewdness. Again, it isn’t just butterflies that mature through stages. People tend to also, Erhart’s novel wryly counsels.
This is a tale of conceits, comical set-ups and antics, secrets, infidelities, loyalties, schemes, awakenings, worldly wisdom, and the natural march of desire. The Butterflies of Grand Canyon approaches these signposts of humanity and life somewhat obliquely as times, but charmingly and memorably nonetheless.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 20 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Plume; 1 edition (December 29, 2009)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||The Butterflies of Grand Canyon|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Margaret Erhart|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Another novel set in the Grand Canyon:
Girl with a Skirt of Stars by Jennifer Kitchell
- Unusual Company (1987)
- Augusta Cotton (1992)
- Old Love (1996)
- Crossing Bully Creek (2005)
- The Butterflies of Grand Canyon (December 2009)