“The Promise of the Void”: A Review of Sharon Heath’s Return of the Butterfly, The Fleur Trilogy, Book 3
Review by Joey Madia
Before you read another word of this review, be sure you’ve done one of the following two things (or, if you are feeling generous, both):
1. Read the previous two books in this series
2. Read my reviews of the first two books in the series
Now we can proceed.
There is an ancient Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.”
Are we cursed? It certainly seems so. The world is, if not IN chaos, on the brink of it. The United States finds itself at a level of Us and Them and Othering that is probably the greatest since the sixties—and there is every reason to believe that this state of things has been carefully engineered. The past two times I’ve left my writing room to go have dinner with friends, the conversation devolved into line demarcating and political posturing. Even when I politely asked that we talk about something else, they persisted. It was Important to them that I understood their Position. The news, such as it is, is a daily feed of Greed, Hatred, and dark prognoses for our planet and its populations—human, animal, and plant.
I would not normally begin a review in such a way, except that it is unavoidable after reading Return of the Butterfly. It is chock full of these struggles, all illuminated, talked about, and worried about by a cast of characters that the readers of this trilogy have come to love, dislike, root for, root against, and, if they are truly honest, measure their own worldviews by.
The central character, Fleur Robins, is near and dear to my heart. She is as complex and conflicted as any character, any person, I have ever gotten to know. And, because of this, she is a perfect character for our times.
Its small wonder that, coming from the troubled home of an ultra-Conservative US Senator and an alcoholic mother, Fleur, despite physical tics and an emotional naïveté that some might classify as “on the Spectrum,” this beautiful enigma of a person would also be a quantum physics genius who makes great strides over the course of the trilogy in the fields of Complexity and Chaos Theory.
Her considerable micro struggles (rape, abortion, a broken engagement, endless deaths) focus her on the macro ones of the country and the planet (primarily overpopulation and climate change), leading to a Nobel Prize for theories about black holes, voids, and transporting people across time and space.
In a delightful case of cause and effect meets effect and cause, Fleur’s contradictions and complexities beam out from her heart, mind, and soul, manifesting as her Tribe: from her earliest days through the end of this most recent book, Fleur is surrounded by scientists, activists, cross-dressers, people of many ethnic and religious backgrounds, and the circumstances and situations that arise from such an interesting mix of often at-odds people provide the narrative fuel for the engine that is Fleur.
And what an engine she is. Moving at near the speed of light, making headway and mistakes in equal measure and judging no one more than herself.
In past reviews I’ve likened Fleur to Holden in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Sheila in Judy Blume’s Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. But in the latest book, she is grown up well beyond these two comparisons.
In many ways, Fleur manifests across the three books as the Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother, and Crone, although, in line with the cyclical nature of time and the almost total breakdown of such in the realm of Quantum Mechanics, it is not a linear progression, but a dance back and forth, from the literal to the metaphorical and back in many cycles.
Return of the Butterfly is about the Chaos of these most troubling and difficult of days. As I stated in the opening, these are in many ways Terrible Times. The human race has come to be more than ever ignorant of our ecosystem, obsessed with Status, gorging on Greed to a level of mental illness that Native American cultures call wetigo, and, because of the former, practicing a heartbreaking game of Othering that impedes real progress in the things that matter: Community, Communion, and Communication.
Again, I only go so far because it is the core matter with which Fleur and Co. are struggling. There are several pregnancies in this book and nothing turns our attention to the future of Humankind, of Earth, more than parenthood.
As I’ve said in previous reviews, Fleur often reminds me of my 19-year-old daughter. I also have two sons. The gaps between us are large and not from lack of love. The world in which I grew up and the world that they have experienced are vastly different.
It truly takes a village. And a village is hard to find.
I am always careful to not reveal plot points in my reviews of these books. They unfold like flowers opening in Spring and the discovery is the point. But prepare to be challenged. Prepare to be provoked. Because, with so many different temperaments, backgrounds, and philosophies swirling around Fleur, you are bound to be bothered by someone. And then come to love them. Or vice versa. Heath’s greatest gift as an author (and she has many) is that she challenges us to partake in what is happening with her characters. This is not passive beach reading—Fleur and friends and the myriad topics they discuss and challenges they live will stay with you. I guarantee it.
So, I hope this is not the end of Fleur’s stories. There is a major development at the end of Return of the Butterfly that signals a tonal and perhaps even a genre shift should the tales continue.
But even more so than that, Fleur is a narrator we really do need right now. She is such a collection of Compromise, Complexity, Community, Communication, and Communion that she is the perfect spokesperson for the 21st century.
In the perhaps darkest days yet to come, I would love to know her thoughts and those of her truly Universal tribe.
TITLE: Return of the Butterfly, The Fleur Trilogy, Book 3
AUTHOR: Sharon Heath
PUBLISHER: Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC