Book Review

Butterfly Tattoo by Deidre Knight

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Title: Butterfly Tattoo
Author: Deidre Knight
Publication Info: Samhain Publishing 2009
ISBN: 978-1-60504-134
Genre: Contemporary Romance

image A User’s Guide for Reading Butterfly Tattoo:

1. Put aside your concepts of what love is, between whom it should be shared, and what a partnership, marriage, loving relationship or family should look like.

2. Definitely forget about your standard expectations of hero archetypes. Michael, the hero, is an electrician. He’s muscular. He’s damn fine to look at. He’s a single father.

So far so good, right?

He’s a widower.

Not uncommon, right?

His former spouse was a man named Alex. Alex was killed in a car accident that left their daughter scarred and his family broken.

3. Forget your automatic rejection of books that switch first-person point of view, or are from first person point of view. Also, prepare to notice and then stop noticing that the book is in the present tense. The first-person and the tense combine to lend an immediacy to the prose that, quite simply, work for both the emotional impact and the narrative progression.

Plus, as a device it underscores the urgency and immediacy of the characters’ grief, and their risks, and their bravery. The tension of their pain and the potential of their fragile happiness is more urgent in the present tense, and after I saw it, I didn’t see it anymore. The way in which the book is written almost seems like each chapter is an episode of a season of a drama, or a telenovela. It’s a visual book, and Knight’s mastery of the individual and larger story arcs in each chapter and in the whole of the book add to the multi-sensual experience of reading it.

4. Stop relying on labels. Hetero. Bi. Gay. Father. Mother. Family.

Please recognize that the foundation of the romance genre absolutely does include books like this one, and that the attraction and love between two people regardless of sex and gender is the bedrock of the romance industry. The connection is the story, not the people at either end of it. The sooner we as readers include books that step outside the traditional lines, the more outstanding narratives we will have to read.

As a corollary, I want to point out that it is a crying, screaming, full-on-raging-tantrum shame that this book is ineligible for a RITA. Not because of the content or the story, but because of the production requirements facing digital publishers. This book may not receive the recognition within our genre that it deserves because of poorly-defined and applied labels, and that problem needs fixing, pronto.

5. Do not skip the longer paragraphs. No seriously. Don’t skip like I do. I tend to read for dialogue and will find myself passing over long blocks of descriptive text, just like my eyes start scanning long paragraphs online.

Don’t do that. I made the mistake in the first few pages and clicked my sorry ass backwards through the file because I had missed some truly eloquent writing. For example:

When you work with writers for a living like I do, life’s little details are an herb garden, and you pluck a few ripe things here and there to give away…..

Then, without meaning to, I leave the room. Not physically, of course, but my mind flutters away. I’m eight feet high, pasted against the ceiling, floating there. Bobbing above them all, listening in. I’m watching her, down there; that girl at her desk with the Montblanc pen and the ruined face, lost in a company town, in her remote corner of an oversized studio lot.

I can’t say enough about Knight’s writing. The prose is lyrical, each word deliberately wrought, like fine stitchwork on an enormous piece of embroidery. Every stitch is exquisite.

Further, do not skip the book because it is big. And it is. For an ebook, it’s bloody huge. But fear not. It flies.

With that list in place, before I forget: plot summary ahoy!

Rebecca O’Neill is a former actress who was attacked by a crazed fan, stabbed and slashed and left for dead. A few years later, she is a shell of her former self, scarred and damaged, afflicted with asthma and a tendency toward panic disorders. Instead of an actress, she’s a producer, working behind the scenes, hiding behind her hair, living in the shadow of the sets that constituted her former life.

When the lights go out in her office, she meets Michael Warner and his daughter, Andrea. Michael, an electrician, seems as lost and sad as Rebecca does, but because they meet in the dark, Rebecca feels secure enough to act a tiny bit on the instant and powerful attraction between herself and Michael. When she volunteers to take Andrea to get something to eat while he works on the power, she learns that Andrea is scarred like she is, and that Andrea’s father, Alex, died. Michael, Andrea says, is her step father. Michael, it would seem, is gay.

Yet Michael is drawn to Rebecca, as is Andrea, and the three of them form fast and deep connections across lines that aren’t normally crossed in a romance. Not only is Michael conflicted about getting over the memory of his first love, but he’s conflicted about being attracted to a woman, about bringing her into his life, about whether he’s gay, or bi, or straight, or just broken.

Rebecca is cautious, and tries to break out of her assumptions and predefined concepts of gayness and straightness – which are pretty clear-cut in Hollywood culture, it seems – and learns to trust Michael, trust herself, and try risking herself and her emotional happiness, trading her stagnant inert life for the excitement and potentially painful hurt of being with Michael.

And then there’s Andrea, who has withdrawn after surviving the accident that killed her father but finds herself connecting easily to Rebecca. She no longer calls Michael “Daddy,” but breaks out of her own shell in a hurry when she sees Rebecca. Her attempt to tell Michael about meeting Rebecca is revealing in its awkward pain:

Andrea stops then, wrapping her small, pale arms around herself in a bear hug. “Her scars still hurt sometimes, too. That’s what she said.”
I fight the urge to reach for her, to try and hold her. Like some hostage negotiator, I’m forced to play observer in my own family, as she edges nearer by the moment. “Like mine does.”

Andrea, Michael, and Rebecca’s stories become intertwined as they learn from and help to heal one another. But the speed with which Michael and Rebecca fall for one another seemed incredibly fast, almost too fast, as if their emotions were confirmed aloud so the plot could move forward, not because their emotions were the plot at that point. Both characters have to fall in love again as part of their healing, but while Michael resisted loving Rebecca, he also admitted his attraction to himself almost immediately, moving again on the same instinct that had led him to Alex. Rebecca’s affections, though mentioned, are not as explored in nuance as Michael’s and for that reason her comments about her own emotions seem to be more replies to his than statements of her own volition. He’s taking steps. She’s still being blown around by whatever force is closest to her.

In the end, it seemed that Michael had fully realized that he had to move on, take risks, and step off the path of grief and self-recrimination. He took deliberate steps in a new direction, and the reader saw the progress, and the effects of his actions.

But for Rebecca, on the other hand, the reader didn’t get to witness as much, and I was left wishing I’d seen more of her own emergence from her former life into a new one. She realizes that she’s too easily pushed by others, and has been living a fraction of her life inside the security of her routine and her lack of connection with people, but the actions she takes to counter her routine aren’t entirely seen. She mentions that she’s going to take a step in a different direction, one that might change her life, but the outcome of that action is never mentioned.

It seemed unfair to me that while I knew so many aspects of Michael’s future, I didn’t know all the elements of Rebecca’s, as much as I was rooting for them both. With the degree of pain they were both in at the start, I wanted more assurance of both characters’ healing.

That said, both characters transform, grow up, and move out of a shell of protective grief into the raw and scary challenge of taking risks and caring about another person again. And the risk of the characters lives echoes the risk of the book itself. The ending scenes were so powerful and touching, I cried.

Using that list as a guideline, I challenge you to read this book. This book, and its plot, are incredibly powerful, and incredibly brave. To base a major conflict on questioning the sexuality of the hero, and to emphasize love and emotional commitment over gender and sexual politics, is a big, powerful, brave, and onerous task to undertake in a romance novel. I know if I described this to some friends who like romance, the minute I got to the hero’s gay relationship, they’d balk. Knight doesn’t pay lip service to the idea of going from a committed gay relationship to a heterosexual one, either. The fact that Michael has found himself attracted to a woman is noticed by all of his friends, and his family, and Alex’s family. And Rebecca isn’t always sure what to make of Michael’s past relationship either, or how to go about talking to him or anyone else about it.

But like most people who face life-or-death situations, the only things that truly matter are not what people think, or what people say. It’s the people who love you and the people you love who matter. Love is real, it is painful, it is powerful, and it is brave, much like this book.


This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Maggie says:

    Between DA’s review and this one, I am incredibly tempted. Put in an entry for me please!

    I really like the premise for the story, and how it seems to be defying labels.

  2. 2
    StephB says:

    Please enter me in the drawing! It sounds really intriguing.

  3. 3
    ijinx says:

    Oh, I will read the book, even if I don’t get it for free, but the thought of Godiva chocolates after 40 loooooooong days of lent made me write this comment. I crave them – give them to me!

  4. 4
    hollygee says:

    This sounds incredibly interesting. I’m in, please.

  5. 5
    Lissanne says:

    Sounds like a great book – thanks for the review, I’ll add it to my reading list.

  6. 6
    ev says:

    Definately outside my usual reading norm, but one I am more than willing to drop onto my Sony whether or not I win one. On the off chance I do, I will just have to wait a couple of days though!

    Too bad that it isn’t eligible for the RITA’s. It sounds like they need to catch up with the times.

  7. 7
    Erin says:

    Wow, this sounds like an enormously complex story.  I’d love to give it a try!

  8. 8
    chlor says:

    Wow I am soooo intrigued by the premise of this one – definitely must read it!  I’d love to be considered for a freebie copy!

  9. 9
    Ms. Kelly says:

    This sounds like it is right up my alley.  Please enter me.

  10. 10
    catie says:

    I have been dying—DYING—for a romance novel that pushes the boundaries like Ms. Night does in BUTTERFLY TATTOO. I’m thrilled to see her break the mold, not only with a heroine who is truly a less-than-physical ideal, but with a hero whom she refuses to define as bi/gay/straight! There’s not enough space in the galaxy to contain my squees.

  11. 11
    SB Sarah says:

    There’s not enough space in the galaxy to contain my squees.

    That’s awesome. If I read cover quotes like that, my day would be MADE. Heads up, publishing folks. Squee is the new black.

  12. 12
    Cheryl McInnis says:

    I read the excerpt for this while cruising around the Samhain site, and I loved the premise, and the first person voice,  but wasn’t sure if the story was a romance or not- I need my happy ending! After reading your amazing review though, I’ll definitely be picking BUTTERFLY TATTOO up.

  13. 13
    Lyndall says:

    Wow!  What a great review,  I probably wouldn’t have read this but I will now!!!  Thanks

  14. 14
    Becky says:

    … ooooooh.  :D *adds to growing must-buy list*

  15. 15
    CT says:

    Need chocolate. But I’m buying this book regardless.

  16. 16
    Chris says:

    Hmm. This is about the 4th or 5th really good review I’ve read of the book – it’s definitely going on my to-read list.

  17. 17
    AgTigress says:

    This sounds like a genuinely interesting novel on every level.  I’d like it to be available as one of those old-fashioned things called books, with paper pages and print, and then I’d buy it…  ;-)

    I have just been re-reading, for the umpteenth time, Mary Renault’s The Charioteer, which was a very courageous and ground-breaking story in its time (published 1953, set in 1940).  For anyone who doesn’t know it, is a story of male homosexual love.  The point of mentioning it is that a reader who is neither male nor gay can immediately identify with the characters, because the real subject is about much more than ‘homosexuality’ or ‘heterosexuality’ or any of the ever-changing labels we place on emotional and sexual relationships:  the subject is the nature of human love.

    From this excellent review, it sounds as though that is the case with Knight’s book too, and if it is, it is a truly important novel that deserves to be widely read.

  18. 18
    GrowlyCub says:

    It sounds intriguing!  Please enter me.

    And I have a recommendation for a British series that deals with a gay man falling in love with a woman.  It’s available on Netflix.  At first I was a bit worried because I liked it so much and it seemed like such a straight woman’s wish-fulfillment fantasy, but it turns out it’s based on a true story, so guilt-free watching! :)

    It’s called ‘Bob and Rose’.

  19. 19
    SandyW says:

    Any book that you and Jane at DA are this enthusiastic over must go on the Read It Now list.

  20. 20
    inez kelley says:

    I will even let you keep the chocolates if I could win this book! The story sounds sweet enough.

  21. 21
    tls says:

    Sounds like a great book.  Please enter me in the drawing.  Thanks.

  22. 22
    Lori S. says:

    Wow.  Anything you and Jane both squee over is a definite must for the TBR list.  Count me in!

  23. 23
    katiebabs says:

    Thanks so much Sarah for the recommendation of this book. I should have my review up tomorrow. Beautiful and eloquent is what Butterfly Tattoo is.

  24. 24
    Rachel J says:

    The book sounds really interesting. Even though I can be put off a book by it being in first person, I’ve always been blown away when I do give one a chance. Maybe this book could be one of those.

    word: sure99

  25. 25
    MRM says:

    This sounds like a good read… I’d love to be in the drawing.

  26. 26

    Butterfly Tattoo is an amazing, wonderful book that will wrench your heart and force you to redefine everything you thought you knew about love and family. The characters and the language will stick with you long after you finish reading.

    Please don’t waste a contest entry on me, since I’ve already read and fallen in love with it! Whoever wins has a treat in store, though.

  27. 27
    PennyH says:

    I love to read all kinds of books and can’t wait to read this one!

  28. 28
    MaryKate says:

    Sarah – Wow. You did such a wonderful job capturing the essence of this book. I blew through it in about three hours.

    The last step in Sarah’s magnificent list is, get your kleenex ready. This is an emotional and raw book. That being said, it’s a marvelous read.  Totally worth it!

    Please don’t enter me in the drawing, I just wanted to compliment you on a really beautifully written review.

  29. 29
    PK says:

    This book sounds incredible and I’m anxious to read it.  Lyrical prose, intelligent treatment of subjects like not choosing love but having love choose you, no matter the gender of the person and excellent writing is way more than enough to recommend this to me.  Add me to the screaming queue of people who want to win.

  30. 30
    mcnappy says:

    No way I could pass up the chance to get a free copy of this-but I will pick it up regardless, as well. It sounds great! I love reading stuff that generates so much passion.

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