This Book Will Change Your Life.

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Currently showing posts tagged The Butterfly Girl

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - on earth we're briefly gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.

    There isn't any gain from having a dialogue about which traumas are worse than others. The question is how can we prevent traumas from happening in the first place. However, I can compare my own personal traumas to one another and I can acknowledge that some traumas truly don't compare to those of others, say those illustrated in on earth we're briefly gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, which is yes, gorgeous despite the pain, sadness and loss (or the recently consumed The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld). Still, both seek to illuminate their respective story arcs, as well as the possibility and futility contained therein through the metaphor of the butterfly, their place in the universe and our collective imagination. Personally, I've spent little time thinking about butterflies at all. But that doesn't mean I don't associate them with trauma. When my older son was a little boy someone gave him a butterfly kit, which allowed us to grow butterflies from egg to adult in our home. We watched them on a nightly basis as they grew and ultimately spread their wings in the cylindrical, mesh habitat that was their home and the idea was when they were truly ready to fly, we were to release them into the sky. When the day came my son refused to come outside with me, because being a January baby it was winter in Chicago and utterly frigid. At no point did it click for me that the butterflies would not be willing to fly into the winter air, but they would not, and that became immediately, sickeningly obvious. They hovered there, in the habitat, flapping their wings, the wind slicing across the sidewalk in front of our building, and after they wouldn't leave I was forced to drop the kit and their still live bodies down the trash chute. Is it too much to say I was traumatized by the abject horror of the whole experience, when one considers the traumas Vuong's protagonist (and Denfeld's for that matter) suffers - violence, child abuse, bullying, racism, xenophobia, isolation, homophobia, drug abuse, death, and the never not presence of the Vietnam War in the form of his mother, grandmother, and his own DNA? It is embarassing to me to even identify it as a traumatic experience, and yet, I cannot and will not ever shake that moment when I opened the netting, and the butterflies, moved but for a moment, then stopped, and it finally occurred to me what I was doing. All or none of which has anything, or everything, to do with on earth we're briefly gorgeous, which reads like an extended poem and takes a life lived in all its horror and nihilism, and still finds beauty and hope. So much so because of Vuong's gift of stringing the right words together in the right ways and in such a fashion that they nearly float above the page, begging to be absorbed, in the way trauma is absorbed, cellularly, and moment by moment, changing our lives, as we filter the spikes of trauma lives doles out, be they butterfly or violence. Now, you might ask, will on earth we're briefly gorgeous change your life? And I might answer, it will, because it will linger, and that lingering will take root and wait for its chance to reappear and remind you that, I was here, you read me, I am part of you, and now we are one.      

  • This Book Will Change Your Life - The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld.

    As I read The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld I was reminded of a story about Stanley Kubrick. I'm paraphrasing quite a bit, but he was asked if he felt disdain for filmmakers who directed movies that earned $100 million. Kubrick replied, that to the contrary he was envious, and that he would be happy to do so himself, he just didn't know how. I was reminded of this, because as painful a world The Butterfly Girl immerses the reader in is - though hopeful too, promise - it is so clearly a book people will want to read. There is a rhythm and flow to the writing, which draws you in. The chapters are short and come fast, shifting between the points of view of Naomi, the child finder, and Celia, the lost child. And these are characters who feel real. They have depth, personal stories. There is also urgency, and mystery, and a drive towards some kind of resolution, even as there are times you want to avert your eyes and turn away from the page, worried about what might come next. There is even a satisfying conclusion, not that such conclusions are required, and no spoilers mind you, but a conclusion such as the one we're given, is appreciated when there is so much violence and sadness to sift through in getting there. There are also enough clues to suggest that if you like these characters, and we do, that more adventures might await them. I can't help but think then, that one could diagram Denfeld's approach to all of this and deconstruct how consciously writing a page-turner might unfold, because it is that, and like Kubrick - and how's that for a healthy dose of narcissism - I don't know that I know how to write such a book. Most of us don't. And by most of us I am referring to writers, but this applies to most artists as well. How do we create something popular? Something the public wants to consume? Denfeld is on to something and I hope to get her on This Podcast WIll Change Your Life some time and ask her just how she approached all of this. However, that's not all I want to ask her about. Because experiencing The Butterfly Girl as a page-turner, which I consumed in quick, massive gulps, is not the only way I experienced this book. Now, doing so wouldn't minimize the craft or impact of Denfeld's work, but it would overlook her exceptionally keen gift for writing about the experience of violence, physical and sexual, the objectification of girls, trauma and those who survive it. This too then of Denfeld's and it takes the book from page-turner to study. Though not a study that is cold or removed, but one built on empathy and the desire to craft an understanding of what this looks like. Particularly in terms of women, and more specifically, the young girls who populate this work. None of which is easy to read or take-in, but in Denfeld's hands it's handled deftly, and kindly, and that too is worthy of envy. Will it change your life? It will. Will it change mine? As a reader it has, and as a writer, I hope so.