A Good Study in the Hands of a Skilled Writer
A good book is hard to find. Especially these days when writers and editors think “cute” and “clever” mean difficult to follow and uninvolved narrators. Not a bit.
Give me a good story in the hands of a skilled writer who doesn’t play tricks, nor pull scarves from sleeves.
Angela Davis Gardner is more than a good writer. She’s a terrific writer spelled with a capital T. She knows her craft, shows her craft, in every sentence, every word. She’s such a skilled writer she makes you sigh out loud, startling yourself and scaring the cat off your lap. She creates a world so real you see the foam on fresh milk in a bucket, smell a kitchen during canning season and cry in a mental institution. And she can go from being inside the mind of a 3-year-old half-Japanese boy to a Midwestern farm wife in childbirth.
Oh, these places this book will take you — from plum trees in Nagasaki, Japan, to farm lands in Ohio, a magical journey, a heartbreaking tale of family ties and the tears of the heart.
Angela Davis Gardner spent a year in Japan as a visiting professor at Tokyo’s Tsuda College. Of course she fell in love with the Puccini’s famous opera “Madame Butterfly,” where an American sailor fathers a child with a Japanese geisha, Cio-Cio-san. The music, the story has had millions enthralled since Puccini wrote it in 1900.
From that love of Japan and the story, Gardner takes her imagination on a whirlwind of internal and external stories. First, there’s Benj, Butterfly’s child, who is adopted by his American birth father and brought to Ohio to live. There’s Frank, a well-meaning man who doesn’t feel he succeeds as a father or a farmer. Kate, the long-suffering farm wife, raising a child by her husband’s lover, living a life she never wanted, nor planned for. Add a community of characters, each of whom Gardner knows like her own mind, and you get a sound story of strife and survival.
You may think you may know where all this is going, but you don’t. Not one page to the next.
When Benj runs away from home, gets into partnership with a con artist, you, as the reader, want to warn him. All that charm, all those promises, Benj is as lured and roped in as his mother had been by “the American.” Of course, he’s Odysseus, and of course he comes home.
Gardner’s love for Japan is in between every sentence in “Butterfly’s Child.” I, who have never been to Japan nor Ohio, felt every footstep of the journey. And I don’t know when I have been as completely enthralled by a book as I was by “Butterfly’s Child.” It’s a classic to come!
Ruth Moose is a longtime reviewer for The Pilot and a creative writer instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill.
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