cover image The Butterfly Lampshade

The Butterfly Lampshade

Aimee Bender. Doubleday, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-38-553487-1

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. (July)