Praise for Butterfly Tattoo, by Deidre Knight, swept the romance novel blogosphere last year, and since I didn’t want to get an eBook from Samhain (I’m old-fashioned, I like to hold a book in my hands), it took me a while to find a print copy. I started reading it last night and finished it this afternoon.
Hype is a tricky thing to have to reconcile when you’re a reader or a viewer — it’s hard to put aside everyone’s raves and form one’s own unencumbered opinion. So, I don’t know if this is a criticism or a positive thing to say, but Knight’s novel moved me more as a study of recovery from loss than as a romance.
Rebecca O’Neill is a former sitcom actress who now works in story development for a major studio. Scarred both physically and emotionally from a stalker’s attack three years before, she has a hard time letting anyone in. Then electrician Michael Warner and his young daughter Andrea come into her life, bringing with them the haunting baggage of having lost someone. Cue a bittersweet web of pain and healing, and an exploration of the things people must let go of if they want to hold on to the here and now. I’m assuming that a lot of the buzz, if not THE buzz, generated by Butterfly Tattoo comes from the “twist” that Michael’s dead lover, Alex — who is a powerful, vibrant character in the novel despite being dead — is a man.
Bisexuality, even in the LGBT community, is marginalized and often written off as a phase or a free pass for promiscuity. Few authors, especially in romance and erotica, seem to handle it with any kind of grace or sensitivity. Not so with Knight, who really does craft Michael as a believable “quasi-queer” (as he self-deprecatingly calls himself at one point) who follows his heart and doesn’t go by what society wants to label him. And that Rebecca must “compete” with the memory of a man really shades the text differently, because it calls up so much of her own stuff…her body image, her need to protect herself from further hurt, etc.
As I said, I’m not sure I would dub it a great love story so much as an emotional tale about people pulling together and creating a family after suffering terrible anguish. Michael and Rebecca’s relationships with eight-year-old Andrea were, for me, the most important in the book and the most evocative.
I was also a bit frustrated by how much happened “offscreen.” I think a key moment involving Michael and his father, towards the end of the story, should have actually been written, rather than simply alluded to. And that the reader is told about the turbulent romance of secondary characters Trevor and Julian but not really allowed a glimpse of it nagged at me a bit. But having said that, the broad strokes of Knight’s story are well-handled, she’s a very lyrical writer and it’s a book I’m glad I picked up.
It’s no wonder Butterfly Tattoo left an indelible mark on so many readers.