The first novel in ten years from the author of The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake, a poignant tale of a mother, a daughter, mental illness, and the fluctuating barrier between the mind and the world.
... [a] compact surrealist memory box of a novel ... resists becoming something other than what its opening pages suggest it’s going to be. Yet its particular quality of stillness hums with so much mystery and intensity that the book never feels static. It is a measure of the book’s success that as I reached the conclusion, I felt considerably more altered by the experience than I often am by novels that travel much further from their beginnings ... how often does a novel that seems poised to reward your immersive attention diminish in its power, conspicuously and all at once, as soon as it tries to engage your predictive attention? Everything begins so promisingly, but then the plot takes hold and the book becomes smaller, more desiccated, as you realize the predictive attention the writer is applying to the material is so much more meager than it could have been, or than your own was. The Butterfly Lampshade never makes that swerve. Instead it retraces the path it has already established, gradually filling in its textures, looking both back and deeper. In this way, it evades the stiffness of those stories that are able to move forward only by hardening into their possibilities.
These recovered memories make up most of the book, and Ms. Bender depicts them in a clear and gentle light, their details precise but never threatening. There is a resemblance to Haruki Murakami in the brushing of the fantastic against the ordinary, but in The Butterfly Lampshade the intersection isn’t sinister, or even especially revelatory. Ms. Bender is interested in the integrity of private mysteries, and her wise, perceptive novel calmly insists that reality is not a fixed place but a journey that everyone travels by different routes.
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.