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Know the West

Voice of the Butterfly

  Change can be as miraculous as a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis ... or as surreal as a wild landscape sprouting highways and leapfrog subdivisions.

John Nichols' newest work of fiction, The Voice of the Butterfly, is a hyperactive meditation on transformation in our post-modern, uber-consumption world. Full of gritty slapstick zen, Nichols' morality play pulls no punches.

Suicide City is the setting, and the Rocky Mountain Phistic Copper butterfly is the cause. A proposed highway bypass through pristine butterfly breeding grounds is the threat. And the unlikely hero is Charley McFarland, aging hippie and ringleader of the wildly dysfunctional Butterfly Coalition. The enemies? Well, in Nichols' darkly comic world it's no accident that many of the town leaders plotting the "progress" of Suicide City are part of the death industry - namely, undertakers and mortuary owners - though, of course, the conspiracy also includes seedy politicos and real estate moguls. For Nichols fans, the ensuing brawl is worth the price of admission.

More than 10 years in the works, The Voice of the Butterfly seems at times less like a traditional novel than a melange of superhero comics authored by Hunter S. Thompson while under the curse of Lono. Never fear, Nichols' trademark rants and snappy dialogue survive his stylistic experiments. As does his stubborn belief in the need to transform anger and despair over mindless, destructive profiteering into hopeful action. The Voice of the Butterfly, by John Nichols. Chronicle Books, 2001, 240 pages. Hardcover: $24.95.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Renee Guillory