“Even in the end the children still dance.”
I’m a sucker for a great opening line, and that one certainly delivers. But that’s not all. Despite its bland cover, this novelette from Crossroad Press presents a beautiful, precision story about humanity, war and the dangers of hubris.
The tale concerns the crew of a bomber, part of a squad flying to Shanghai in a nuclear war of mutually assured destruction. But when it comes to the crunch, one well-intentioned soldier named Leroy Pearson struggles to deal with the genocidal potential of his trigger finger. After the attack, the bomber crashes in a remote part of China and Pearson awakes in a rustic village by a lake. A place populated by an unaffected and artistic people, colourful butterflies, and curious dancing children who embrace the bedraggled warhorses without prejudice or suspicion.
This is a perfectly crafted story. The haunting introduction – a post-apocalyptic scene on the edge of the lake – has overwhelming tones of nostalgia and insidious darkness, and segues nicely into the build up of the bomber’s mission. This is appropriately tense, and the switch from cacophonous war to the eerie tranquillity of the village is fantastic, setting the mood for the second half. Leroy Pearson’s back story is seamlessly worked into the flow – especially his defiant father’s refusal to buckle beneath racist abuse – and explains our protagonist’s motives and why he’s the man he is today.
Another strength is evocation. As well as the nightmarish opener, equally outstanding is a scene atop a blazing pagoda that catalogues an unhinged soldier’s life from childhood to present. It’s incredibly elegant, yet also rendered hopeless by the inevitability of doom. There’s genuine humanity here, but what seems to be hope in a world of contamination and death soon becomes tainted. The author manipulates our sense of duty, and where our moral decisions fit into actual right and wrong.
With a breathtaking conclusion, “Butterfly Winter” is superb and I couldn’t find fault. This is a journey we really share with the characters, and well worth a purchase. Thought-provoking and elegiac, it’s an experience that lingers.