The Voice of the Butterfly: A Novel

( 4 )


Now in paperback, John Nichols's fresh, hilarious, and touching novel brings his vintage wit to the absurdities of modern life. When Suicide City's new highway bypass threatens the home of an exquisitely obscure butterfly, aging '60s radical and continuing proponent of losing battles Charley McFarland rallies an off-the-rails band of misfits to help fight the powers that be. A dazzling dark comedy of ideals and unlikely heroes, his latest novel will delight fans of his Milagro Beanfield War and of Nichols's ...

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Now in paperback, John Nichols's fresh, hilarious, and touching novel brings his vintage wit to the absurdities of modern life. When Suicide City's new highway bypass threatens the home of an exquisitely obscure butterfly, aging '60s radical and continuing proponent of losing battles Charley McFarland rallies an off-the-rails band of misfits to help fight the powers that be. A dazzling dark comedy of ideals and unlikely heroes, his latest novel will delight fans of his Milagro Beanfield War and of Nichols's unique style: "Raise the toughest questions you can think of, but keep the readers laughing" (Denver Post).

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780811839907
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
  • Publication date: 2/1/2003
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.75 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

John Nichols is the author of nine novels and seven works of nonfiction. He lives in New Mexico.

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Read an Excerpt

The Voice of the Butterfly

By John Treadwell Nichols

Chronicle Books

Copyright © 2003 John Treadwell Nichols
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0811839907

Chapter One

Any implausible story worth its salt begins with an alarm going off.


Arise, ye prisoners of starvation.

I woke up in a panic and started humping it because I had already slept through three ten-minute snooze alarms and time was running out. Today, September twenty-eighth, was National Feline Leukemia Prevention Day, so I scrambled about madly, grabbing cats and shoving them one atop another into my cardboard Cat Caddy. Last one in (Tommy), whom I crammed atop Elroy, Oopboop, Ginger, and Carlos, squirmed, mewed, hissed, and clawed defiantly, but a pumped-up Charley McFarland is nothing if not determined when the chips are down, so I stuffed Tommy in among the others with a contemptible lack of sympathy for their claustrophobia. Why would a guy like me, who is not naturally a cat man, be taking such good care of that raggedy bunch of misfits? Because they were Kelly's cats when we were still together, that's why. And she had loved them dearly, liberating them all from Death Row at the Animal Shelter. In fact, they were the only "sane" part of her that remained, even though her proclivity had been to adopt the hardcores, the pirates, the one-eyed toms with half an ear missing who'd as soon piss on your bedspread just for the inbred thrill of it. But hey, they'd made Kelly "happy," and I would never have argued with that.

Then I hopped into my beater Buick convertible (circa 1976) and headed north on Willow Road, creating one pound of carbon dioxide for every mile traveled. I'm supposed to be an environmentalist and I actually cringed as blue smoke billowed out grotesquely behind me, mugging a flight of evening grosbeaks in a box elder tree, scorching the petals of wild sunflowers, and laying a thin film of poisonous fallout on the foreheads of two Appaloosas staring benignly at my junker wheels.

"I'm sorry!" I shouted miserably. "I don't have the bread for a catalytic converter!" ("You're a pathetic guilt freak, Charley," Kelly used to harp. "You're not happy unless you feel miserable for killing every stupid frog on the planet and enslaving all the starving coffee workers in Honduras by buying a jar of Maxwell House freeze-dried instant java once every three years.")

Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what I really felt sorry about on this particular grim morning were the plans to eradicate my beloved Willow Road, the last relatively untrammeled artery (and land) in our valley. Come November, in the election, a local mill levy proposition on the ballot (Prop X), if passed, would tax all of us befuddled citizens in order to build a highway bypass, an industrial park, and other assorted travesties on bucolic Willow Road. Coincidentally, the bypass would flatten my oldest friend and rabble-rousing cohort, Lydia Arlington Babcock, and in the process demolish a rare and endangered butterfly, the Rocky Mountain Phistic Copper, which called Lydia's property (at the end of Willow Road) its home. Enraged by this shortsighted, environmentally terracidal project, I had recently decided (almost too late!) to form an organization whose purpose would be to derail Proposition X. This would only be about the two hundredth such dysfunctional coalition that I had spawned over the last twenty years, but today the stakes were higher than ever and the resources to draw on nearly nonexistent given the attrition rate during the Nineties on serious social activism in Suicide City. I didn't care, though, I'm a maniac. I mean, ever since the anti-Vietnam war movement, my role in life has been to fight. I also remember Chico Mendes.

When I turned off Willow Road onto Bayview, the modern world--the real world--hit me full in the face like a gigantic lemon meringue pie traveling at ninety miles an hour: Poomph! Splatter! Glub! First, in the Clarence Fagerquist Mobile Court hundreds of bloated doublewides were lined end-to-end in an orgasm of aluminum siding and Astroturf WELCOME mats. Then came those wonderful Poddubny Estates, which featured about eight hundred pre-fab lookalike hermetically sealed Monopoly houses with an air conditioner in every window (love those CFCs!), and an ornamental maple blazing golden in the middle of every Weed Free(r) lawn with a skull and crossbones dwidget on it warning about herbicides, fertilizers, and gopher baits made of coumadin. Yum. After that, I turned left at the highway, out of Dante's Inferno and into Hieronymus Boschville.

"Neon and freon!" I gabbled insanely, squinting against the glare. On the radio, atavistic WPNX disc jockey Randy Featherstone screamed, "HERE COME THE STONES!" and before you could shake a stick, Mick Jagger--Mick Jagger? Still alive?--was bellowing that he couldn't get no satisfaction.

Me neither, girlfriend. So I gritted my rotting teeth and snarled, beeped at all the confusion, and passed on the right, pebbles flying. The usual assholes honked back, fired the required birdies, and shook their fists at me, but I told them all to blow it out their overweight fannies, squared. Of course I couldn't see half of them because they were hidden behind darkly tinted windows, anonymous voyagers on the road to hell in an autocentric America where thanks to voice mail, e-mail, caller IDs, Internet-shopping Web sites, and frosted auto glass, actual Human Contact has become an unnecessary luxury and a true impediment to the final total alienation of humanity from the universe. Kelly once went on one of her sprees, shooting the windows out of a half dozen tinted Camaros on the lot at Copernicus Motors. No ma'am, I do not approve of firearms, but Kelly certainly understood the concept.

When traffic finally thinned out, I hit the gas to make up for lost time and promptly the Southern Rocky Mountains' answer to agents Scully and Mulder, Johnny Batrus, tripped his siren button and pulled me over. This had happened to me often, but I'm Pavlovian and almost shit in my pants and had a heart attack.

Even before his ridiculous self-important macho ball-bulging saunter had carried him (and his filthy, alienating, one-way Mercury shades) to my door, my terrified motor mouth was off and running:

"Yo, Johnny, I'm sorry, I'm late, I'll get fired if I don't make it to work on time and today's the only day they can fit in Kelly's cats for shots, I didn't mean it, I promise I'll never speed again, listen, I'll give you guys a donation to the PAL this summer so you can buy baseballs made in Haiti by kwashiorkor vic--"

Great spiel ... but it cost me thirty bucks anyway, it always does.

"That's just for going twenty over the limit," Johnny said. "I shoulda gave you another fifty for no seatbelt. Does this piece of crap even have a seatbelt? Well, you better get one, and then you better buckle up, because next time I catch you, bub, I'm gonna throw the book."

Yada, yada, yada.

Before I could split, however, a mud-spattered dyspeptic '88 Toyota pickup missing the right front fender pulled over behind Johnny's cruiser, and a scrawny popeyed female dingaling jumped out, camera in hand: click!click!click! Then she skipped toward us, a ballpoint clamped between her teeth, flipping the yellow pages of her notepad.

"Hiya gang," this quirky zealot piped cheerfully. "Am I in time for a salacious tidbit? Hey Chaz, honey, what do I hear about the Butterfly Coalition?"

Susan Delgado, Sentinel-Argus cub reporter, and the least popular carcinogen in Suicide City. She measured five feet nine inches and weighed about sixty pounds and her blue eyes bulged froglike through inch-thick lenses set in bold black Buddy Holly frames. Her punker hairdo looked like terrified cat whiskers Superglued onto a pink balloon. But I actually enjoyed her because Susan was on our side, and the reporter loved me, or so she liked to tease, claiming I was a "kindred spirit."

"Beat it, Susan," Johnny said, heading back to his squad car. "Or I'll bust you for arrested development."

To me, he added, "By the way, I hadda escort your wife out of Smith's the other day. She tried to steal a Mickey Bigmouth six-pack and a family-size bag of pork rinds."

As an afterthought he yelled, "Why don't you drown the cats?"

Susan sighed, "Aww, gee ..." Then she just stood there, pigeontoed, inhaling my exhaust. I felt bad, but I was in a hurry: Ciao, baby--gotta book, save the scuttlebutt for later.

And anyway, the Butterfly Coalition was still supposed to be under wraps, and once Susan got on the case it would be like bloodhounds in Bangladesh, searching for disaster.


Excerpted from The Voice of the Butterfly by John Treadwell Nichols Copyright © 2003 by John Treadwell Nichols. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 4 )
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  • Posted February 10, 2012

    Really Bad

    First, why are electronic books so full of errors? It is rare to run across an error in a printed book, but common in ebooks. This book, like most ebooks had numerous errors/typos.

    Second, I liked Beanfield War, but this book was poorly conceived and poorly written. It seemed like it was a book he had to knock out in a weekend.

    Pass on it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2011

    Great book!

    Very funny way to get across some serious issues. Wish everyone would read this before voting or getting involved in social causes. Sad that so much of this book is a true reflection of how politics really work. Will read more by this author. Worth your time!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2001

    Savage Satire of Our We Solve Social Problems

    'How can we save ourselves before we self-destruct?' That's the central question of this book. Laws, social activists, the media, ordinary citizens, and economic interests all come in for the sharp stick of satire in this irreverent look at political processes in the early 21st century United States. The book revels in vulgarities and the ugly side of humanity as an attempt to shake you out of your political lethargy. The style of satire will remind you of Candide. The book's best strength is found in the character of the manic, self-destructive Kelly, who is dying from having lost her hope for the future. Charley McFarland is the central character in the novel. He is a Don Quixote of lost causes. This time he wants to stop a new road. Because the road will come through a section where a rare butterfly species lives (the 'Phistic Copper'), he has hopes of winning with the regulators if not at the polls. He is aided in this process by ancient Lydia, on whose land the butterflies live, his wife Kelly (from whom he is separated), reluctantly by his son Lucifer, and Susan Delgado (an anorexic reporter who has her eye on him). The economic forces have a strong control on the town, and own the newspaper. Only after the Butterfly Coalition's antics attract the attention of outside media does progress occur. The book's moral is that elections and the free press (with all of their weaknesses) are our only, best hope. The process is described though as being like a 17 ring circus, detached from the facts. And that's probably pretty accurate in many cases. Although the average person cannot be bothered to work on the issues (even if they are affected) until the television reporters tell them it's important, the activists take significant physical and financial risks. Kelly is a one-woman guided missile, committed to helping the coalition, getting Charley back, and having another drink (not necessarily in that order). She is a tragi-comic figure of Rabelaisian dimensions whom you will find appealing, despite the bleakness of her life and outlook. Most people will find the satire overdone. Mr. Nichols certainly does like to keep putting the stick into your eye, to be sure you don't miss his point. I think that few will, but the savage and unrelenting pounding from the satire will dull your senses after awhile. The plot itself is merely a way to move from one slapstick scene to the next. There is no attempt to pretend that it is realistic. This is a tale about morality, so think of the book as a fable about modern life rather than as a normal novel. The book's style will remind you of many Vonnegut books. After you have finished enjoying the humor here, take some time to let the lessons settle in. Where should you be taking a stand, influencing others, and helping positive change occur in our society? Please start working on something you care about! May our actions match our mutual needs! Donald Mitchell, a co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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